The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), notes with concern that Montenegro’s politicians have stepped up pressure on journalists, ahead of parliamentary elections, scheduled for 14 October 2012. They appear to be lobbying international organisations to ban critical journalists from attending public events.
In August 2012, investigative journalist Miranda Patrucic, who works for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), was invited to speak at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly 81st Rose Roth Seminar, to take place in Sveti Stefan,Montenegro, from 15 to 17 October 2012. Patrucic, the author of the widely publicised article series on irregular banking practices in Montenegro, was invited to speak on the panel: “Strengthening the Rule of Law: Fighting Corruption, Building Integrity.” Seminar organisers even bought her the aeroplane ticket to fly from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Montenegro and she was included in the draft program of the seminar, organised in cooperation with the Parliament of Montenegro.
On 24 September 2012, Patrucic received a phone call from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the Brussels-based organization officially presented as“an essential link between NATO and the parliaments of the NATO nations.” She was told that she had been uninvited and her participation was cancelled. Patrucic was told that a high level Montenegrin politician had intervened in order to cancel her participation. She suggested that her supervisor could substitute for her but he was not welcome either.
SEEMO contacted the NATO Parliamentary Assembly for a comment and received an official statement that reads: “The NATO PA does not, as a matter of policy, comment on the specifics of the invitation process.”
In solidarity with Patrucic, another fellow speaker cancelled her participation. “It’s really silly to talk about integrity at a conference when somebody was disinvited just for being critical of the government,” said Dragana Zarkovic-Obradovic, manager of the Serbiachapter of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).
“I am amazed that an international institution invites and then uninvites a journalist. I am also amazed that Montenegrin politicians go as far as to influence international seminars and ban speakers. Montenegro is about to join the EU and free speech does not seem to be guaranteed, “SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic said.