Institute Alternative (IA) and Human Rights Action (HRA) invite the Government, Director of the Police Administration, State Prosecution Office and Ombudsman, to urgently ensure respect for human rights and rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, prohibition of abuse of freedom of expression in Montenegro, in accordance with the Constitution and international standards. In this time of increased political tensions, we invite everyone to behave reasonably and non-violently, and state authorities to ensure respect of human rights and political dissidents. We expect that the political conflict in Budva, which caused the protests, will be resolved through dialogue, with the help of mediator.
We are considering filing an initiative to review the constitutionality of the announced measures banning political and religious gatherings, because such measures are considered disproportionate and discriminatory. We are waiting for the measures to be officially announced. The right to protest must be ensured in time of pandemic, with mandatory compliance of measures such as masks and physical distance, as already decided, e.g. by the Constitutional Court of Germany.
We appeal to all who participate in protests not to use any kind of violence. Besides being prohibited and punishable, violence does not give legitimacy to any progressive idea. Oyster attacks on the police cannot be justified. Also, the recurrence of police brutality on the streets of Montenegro is absolutely unacceptable. All state authorities, especially the Government, should immediately condemn the obvious police abuse of citizens in Budva, which was recorded by videos watched by the whole world. It is truly unfortunate that the Head of Delegation of European Union need to remind the Prime Minister of Montenegro to do so. We invite the Director of the Police Administration as well as State prosecutors, to urgently ensure the identification and prosecution of all police officers seen on footage kicking and beating up people laying incapacitated or not resisting, or the citizen who was shouting “ne damo svetinje”. Such officers must leave the police once and for all. We remind you that they were never identified, and that the Police administration still employs officers who abused Milorad Martinović and people in Zlatarska street and other locations in Podgorica in 2015, as well as many other before them, who abused Aleksandar Pejanović. The police must not be a team responsible for torture, and those responsible for tolerating torture must bear the consequences. Today is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and Montenegro does not provide a ban of torture and other, in accordance with international standards.
Police Administration must ensure peaceful and spontaneous assemblies, even if they are not reported. This is allowed by the Law in Montenegro, as well as in Europe. Citizens must be given enough time to express their views on such assemblies. Arresting and punishing people who peacefully protest and do not participate in acts of violence is a violation of civil rights and may only cause revolt. And blocking roads must be tolerated for a reasonable time period until the protest is expressed. Protests in Berane only responded to human rights demands. Citizens were able to express their views, and the police did not use force. The same cannot be said for other cities, where the police from the start ordered the citizens to disperse and arrested those who did not want to do so. Peaceful protest, without violence and attacks on the police, must enjoy protection even if they are not reported. Although the Director of the Police Administration and its officials do not agree with messages of protests, they still have to secure it so that this disagreement is not noticeable. The police should not be a tool for political confrontation.
To the gathered in Podgorica, police used means to break up the protest less than half an hour after the beginning of protest, which is really short tome to express any position. In a situation of a peaceful assembly, police had no basis to break up such gathering after a short period of time. Those responsible for responding to protests in the police, must know European standards in this regard.
Selective treatment of citizens was also noticeable and compared to the time they spent in police stations after their arrest. In Podgorica, citizens spent up to 15 hours in the police, while citizens of Bar were released after 2 hours. According to the information we received, some individuals in Podgorica spent the night in the police station sitting in crowded room with 25 other people, while the police officers were not wearing the protective masks, nor they distribute them to those present. Is that responsible behaviour during the epidemic?
The use of force in protests is acceptable only when it is strictly necessary to restore order and protect the rights, while respecting the rules on the use of corrective measures which obliges every police officer. We demand an urgent and impartial investigation on the incident of throwing tear gas into a sports object in Budva, which endangered children.
Calling on investigative interview persons who posted information on social media that protest are being organised also endangers their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Threats that in case of riots they will be marked as organisers and therefore prosecuted, represent an inadmissible intimidation that does a disservice to the development of democracy in Montenegro. These persons informed about the protest, which as a reaction to the events in Budva are categorised as spontaneous assemblies, which if they are not violent, should be secured.
The uniforms of the police officers are still unmarked, as required by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture 12 years ago, although in the meantime Decree amending Decree on the colour and markings of vehicles and vessels, weapons and special equipment, was adopted. Such irresponsibility of the Police Directorate, not to comply with the regulations and so allows its officials to avoid liability, jeopardises the trust of citizens. Someone has to take responsibility for that.
Stevo Muk, President of the managing board of the Institute Alternative (IA)
Tea Gorjanc Prelević, Executive Director of the NGO Human Rights Action (HRA)