Montenegro urged to investigate attacks against journalists

05/09/2013

Accounts of attacks on journalists, orchestrated by police, were revealed by a former member of the police's special anti-terror unit.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Podgorica -- 05/09/2013

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President Filip Vujanovic urged a full investigation into the account of police-ordered violence against journalists. [AFP]

Allegations that Montenegro's police organised beatings of journalists, government critics and opponents could be a turning point for the media to gain a higher degree of freedom, media observers said.

The scandal was revealed by Brajusko Brajuskovic, a former member of the police's special anti-terrorist unit, who told reporters on August 21st that his colleagues were involved in organised beatings of journalists, writers and opposition figures for years.

Brajuskovic said the beatings were ordered by Veselin Veljovic, who from 1995 to 2005 commanded the special anti-terrorist unit, and who from 2005 to 2011 was head of the police. He is currently an adviser to President Filip Vujanovic on defence and security matters.

Veljovic said that the report has been fabricated to stall the country's bid for EU membership.

"This affair is a chance for media in Montenegro get a greater degree of freedom," Esad Kocan, chief editor of the Montenegro's weekly Monitor, told SETimes. "Journalists are just doing their job and people need to understand that. That is why journalists should have greater public support. As for the judiciary, I absolutely have no illusions that they will handle something because the judiciary in Montenegro is a part of the ruling system; they've proved that too many times."

Civic NGOs and experts urged authorities to carry out an investigation and secure protection for Brajuskovic.

"Irrespective of the details of this story, the essential thing is to transparently investigate all cases of physical attacks where attackers are not discovered. This is normal in every legal state and I expect that if there are just doubts, even just assumptions or rumors, that the police and judicial authorities investigate the case. The investigation can only be in the interest of the citizens and the authorities in Montenegro," Oliver Vujovic, secretary general of the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), told SETimes.

The daily newspaper Vijesti on August 30th published an anonymous letter that suggested that three active policemen were responsible for an attack on Dusko Jovanovic, the former editor-in-chief of the opposition daily Dan, in 2000.

The policemen, Slavko Djurovic, Vlado Lazovic, and Dragan Kalezic, have denied claims they assaulted Jovanovic, saying their reputation is being compromised without proper evidence.

Jovanovic was murdered in 2004 in the centre of the capital, Podgorica. So far, only one person, Damir Mandic, jailed for 18 years in 2009 as an accomplice to the killing, has been convicted for the crime.

Marko Dralovic, 28, a freelance journalist from Podgorica, said that people do not realise that journalists' work benefits the public.

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"It should be understood that an attack on journalists is an attack on the entire public. Journalists are engaged in business of public importance, as is the government or the court. Let me remind you that we have all the possible European and world's laws that protect us. However, as we can see, none of those laws are respected," Dralovic told SETimes.

The prosecutor's office in Podgorica questioned Brajuskovic on August 28th about his claims, but it is unknown if officials will initiate a formal investigation. Vujanovic also called for an investigation to "inform the public about the results."

"If the authorities don't detect attackers on journalists -- those who physically carry out their attacks, and also those who are behind these attacks, we have a big problem. It is a problem that is called fear, uncertainty and lack of security of citizens, no matter whether they are journalists or someone else. If the authorities don't investigate all cases of attacks, journalists will have the fear of what to write and how they write, which means that there is self-censorship. That is very dangerous," Vujovic said.

What protections should the press have to guarantee an open media? Add your thoughts in the comment section below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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