EU warns Montenegro over jailed journalist

17 Jan 2019 / 22:54 H.

BRUSSELS: The EU warned Montenegro that press freedom was a “key element” of the Balkan state’s bid to join the bloc, after an award-winning investigative journalist was jailed for drug trafficking.

Jovo Martinovic was sentenced to a year and a half in prison this week over alleged links to a smuggling ring — contacts that he said were part of his reporting work — drawing condemnation from media freedom group Reporters Without Borders.

Martinovic’s lawyer has said he will appeal, and European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said Brussels expected him to be given a fair trial, warning that restricting the press could imperil Montenegro’s bid to join the EU.

“Freedom of expression is one of the fundamental values of the European Union and it’s also a key element of Montenegro’s EU accession process, and in this context journalists should be able to perform their duties professionally and without fear of repercussions,“ she told reporters in Brussels.

Martinovic, who has worked for major international media including the BBC and the Financial Times, spent 15 months in prison awaiting trial before being released a year ago.

He has denied the accusations and said that his contacts with criminal circles were strictly professional in the context of reporting.

“Trafficking in marijuana would have made no sense to me. I just don’t have any motivation to do it, I have an international career,“ he said at the last hearing in December.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the verdict against him as “a disturbing setback for press freedom in a country that says it wants to join the European Union”.

Montenegro hopes to join the European Union by 2025 and is under growing pressure to tackle organised crime and safeguard media freedom.

After a journalist was shot in May 2018, Brussels warned that the accession process would be “hampered” if there was no progress in protecting journalists. — AFP

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