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Award-winning Montenegrin reporter sentenced on drug charges

1 min 28Approximate reading time

A Montenegrin court on Thursday sentenced an award-winning investigative reporter to one year in jail following a retrial on drug trafficking charges, on what press watchdog RSF said was a "black day" for media freedom.

Jovo Martinovic, who has reported widely on organised crime and war crimes for both local and foreign outlets, was sentenced in 2019 to a year and a half in prison over alleged links to a smuggling ring.

Martinovic, who has denied the accusations, appealed the verdict, and an appeals tribunal ordered the retrial citing lack of evidence.

The journalist said earlier that his contacts with criminal circles were strictly professional in the context of reporting.

On Thursday, Martinovic, 48, labelled his new verdict "political and shameful" and said he would appeal it.

"Witnesses' testimonies were in my favour. All the evidence was in my favour. The court did not want to accept the evidence I proposed which shows that I was on a reporting mission.

"The judgement was written a long time ago," he told reporters.

However, Martinovic will not go to jail as he was already detained for nearly 15 months -- longer than his sentence -- while awaiting the first trial.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which on Tuesday along with seven other media freedom groups had urged Martinovic's acquittal, slammed the verdict on Twitter as a "black day for press freedom in Europe".

The watchdog had warned earlier that a new conviction of Martinovic would be incompatible with its accession to the European Union, for which an "independent and pluralist media is a key condition".

In a progress report on the Balkan nation's EU path, Brussels warned Tuesday that it had made "no progress on freedom of expression".

Martinovic has worked for major international media including the BBC and the Financial Times.

He won the 2018 Peter Mackler Award for his investigations, including work that exposed war crimes during and after Serbia's conflict with Kosovo in the 1990s.

Montenegro, home to 650,000 people, hopes to join the EU by 2025 and is under growing pressure to tackle organised crime and safeguard media freedom.

Before Martinovic's arrest he had worked on stories about the notorious "Pink Panther" international jewel thieves gang made up of members mainly from the former Yugoslavia.

Gang member Dusko Martinovic was sentenced to six years and three months in the trial. Six others were also convicted.

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