Journalists and Human Rights Defenders Appeal for EU support

Representatives of three independent media and the organisation MANS pleaded in an open letter to the European Commission and the Governments of the EU countries to react on the public statements against media and NGOs made by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.

To: Governments of EU Member States and the EU Commission

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen,

We, representatives of three independent Montenegrin media and the NGO MANS, would like to draw your attention to the situation in our country following several public statements against media and NGOs made by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.

Prime Minister Djukanovic gave an interview to the state-owned daily newspaper Pobjeda on the Day of Independence, on May 21st. In this interview, he labeled his critics as traitors: “While acting against their own country, they are hiding behind the veil of fight for personal freedom and media freedom.” The same are described as “unaccountable, frustrated people, who, as time goes by, will need not political power but the increasing attention of their families”. The interview contains numerous accusations and threats, some disguised, some very open.

On June 4th, Prime Minister Djukanovic reacted again in public (i.e. on the Government website) to an investigative article published by the American Center for Public Integrity dealing with Djukanovic’s connections to the organised crime. On this occasion, he implied that local media and journalists were behind this article, and portrayed them as liars and betrayers of Montenegro.

Please be aware that this is not just a simple verbal attack and that this rhetoric exceeds the everyday political exchange between people who think differently. We are now being portrayed as enemies working against their own country, as being disrespectful of Montenegro.

In a third text published just days ago, we are even described as individuals who cannot be qualified as ‘honorable’ people in the Montenegrin meaning of this expression. This remark was restated by the Prime Minister’s press liaison officer.

Despite support provided to us by representatives of the EU countries and institutions, unfortunately, the EC Director General Pierre Mirel gave an interview during a recent visit to Podgorica in which he did not distance himself from this type of rhetoric. Instead of protecting the media and NGOs, he said that we lacked professionalism.

The Prime Minister’s rhetoric reminds of the atmosphere during the dangerous war and postwar years when similar public statements depicting journalists made of them “fair game”. In 2004. Dusko Jovanovic, the editor-in-chief of the daily DAN was killed, but those who ordered and organised this crime have still not been identified.

In September 2007, Zeljko Ivanovic, director of Vijesti, was assaulted and injured following the celebration of the newspaper’s 10th anniversary. By the end of same year, journalist Tufik Softic was physically assaulted and injured. In early 2008, journalist Mladen Stojovic was severely beaten and injured. In 2009, professor Milan Popovic, who criticized the country’s leading politicians was called to an ‘informative conversation’ with the State Prosecutor and Special Prosecutor for Organised Crime. In turn, the NGO MANS and its staff were harassed on numerous occasions over the past years.

Apart from such incidents, the independent media and NGOs are confronted with a giteming number of slander cases brought to the court, which is absorbing their human and financial resources. After PM Djukanovic sued Vijesti for 1 million euro, a series of court cases were initiated against Dan, Vijesti, Monitor and MANS.

The atmosphere of defamation and hatred against critical voices and the lack of support by a high EU official is a cause of serious concern. It does not lead to the democratisation and the European future of our country. Therefore, we urge you to monitor carefully these developments and to insist that the freedom of media and civil society are not restrained by the leading politicians of Montenegro.

Yours respectfully,

Zeljko Ivanovic, Executive Director, Vijesti

Mladen Milutinovic; Executive Director, Dan

Milka Tadic Mijovic, Executive Director, Monitor

Vanja Calovic, Executive Director, MANS