Open Letter to the President of the Government of Montenegro

Nearly 50 NGOs and over 30 editors and journalists of the Montenegrin media sent today an open letter to the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Duško Marković, requesting to postpone public discussions and consultations on amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information until the end of the epidemic. 

The request to postpone the discussion on this law was previously supported by Transparency International from Berlin, Access Info Europe from Madrid, the global network of OCCRP research media centres and experts in the field of the right on free access to information.

OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

We call on you to postpone public consultations on amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information, which foresee numerous restrictions on the work of investigative journalists and NGO sector, until the end of the epidemic.

In a situation where the peak of the coronavirus epidemic is expected and in the atmosphere of uncertainty, it is necessary, more than ever, for citizens to have full trust in the institutions of the state, while fake news can leave enormous consequences. Therefore, we expected that the Government would work on increasing the openness of institutions, in cooperation with the media and NGO sector, instead of creating conditions in such situation to withhold even more information.

The decision of the Ministry to put the Law on Free Access to Information up for discussion right now does not contribute to the trust of citizens in the work of the Government. The law has been sharply criticized by journalists, non-governmental activists and foreign experts, while the European Commission has repeatedly pointed to the poor legal framework and even worse practice of institutions. We noted that the Ministry of Public Administration on Friday extended the deadline for submitting comments until April 13, and announced that it would organize a discussion via video conference afterwards.

We would like to remind you that at this moment there is a strong need for accurate and verified information in order to avoid a flood of fake news. This will not be possible if institutions continue to withhold information, and in particular, if they are provided with the legal basis that will exist if such law is adopted.

Namely, this version of amendments to the law also contains numerous norms which, contrary to the Constitution and standards, narrow the rights of citizens to information held by state bodies, and in particular restricts the work of investigative journalists and NGO sector.

Although we can send more specific comments by April 13, we do not think that it is appropriate to organise consultation on such important issues by video link in such situation when even the Parliament does not hold sessions, thus we once again urge that the whole matter be postponed until the situation returns to normal.

The proposed amendments allow institutions to withhold even more information than before, while in the eve of elections, political parties are abolished from the obligation to publish information on all finances. It is not prescribed what can be considered trade or tax secrets, and under what conditions information exchanged with other countries or international organizations can be hidden. At the same time, courts and prosecutor’s offices are allowed to withhold all information about court proceedings and investigations.

However, now when the epidemic is officially declared, while citizens are locked in their homes, and after numerous restrictions on movement and gatherings are introduced, there are no elementary conditions for holding a meaningful public debate on the issue. The debate on the Law at the time of the epidemic is by no means fitting into the dialogue that you have started within the Alliance for Europe, and it completely refutes everything that is presented as the aim of the initiative.

We hope that the decision to hold public consultations on the citizens’ constitutional right to access information during the epidemic has been taken in haste, and therefore we urge you to hold an adequate public debate on this Law only after citizens are allowed to attend public meetings.

The undersigned NGOs, media editors and journalists:

NGO The Network for Affirmation of NGO Sector – MANS
NGO Human Rights Action – HRA
NGO Institute Alternative – IA
NGO The Centre for Monitoring and Research – CEMI
NGO Center for Civil Liberties – CEGAS
NGO Center for Democratic Transition – CDT
Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro – CIN-CG
NGO Centre for Democracy and Human Rights – CEDEM
NGO 35 mm
Crime and corruption reporting network – LUPA
NGO Center for Protection and Research of Birds – CZIP
NGO Green Home
NGO Expeditio
NGO Media Centre
NGO Young Roma
NGO European Association for Law and Finance (EALF)
NGO ADAMAS
Committee of Young Lawyers of Montenegro
Montenegrin Youth Initiative
Youth Workers Alliance Montenegro
Montenegrin Debate Union
NGO Women’s Safe House – SŽK
NGO Montenegrin Ecologists Society – CDE
Roma Youth Organization “Walk with us – Phiren Amenca”
NGO Our Action
Organisation KOD
Politikon Network
Association of Paraplegics Podgorica
NGO Eco Team
NGO Centre for Entrepreneurship
Association of Paraplegics Bijelo Polje and Mojkovac
Union of Free Trade Unions of Montenegro
Committee of Lawyers for the Protection of Human Rights of Montenegro (CKZP)
NGO Association for Civil Society Development Bijelo Polje
NGO Institute for Business and Financial Literacy
Dr Martin Schneider – Jacoby Association MSJA
NGO Association of Youth with Disabilities of Montenegro – UMHCG
NGO Anima
NGO Workers from Bankrupt Companies in Montenegro
Foundation “HELP – Action for North of Montenegro”
NGO Hope Herceg Novi
NGO UZPD Nikšić
Network for education and development of support services for persons with disabilities – MERSP
NGO Nit
Hand of Friendship Foundation
NGO Pandora, Herceg Novi
NGO Identity

Editors and journalists

Tatjana Ašanin, editor, TV Vijesti
Nikola Marković, editor, DAN
Marijana Bojanić, director,TV Vijesti
Tina Popović, editor, ID Vijesti
Mihailo Jovović, programme editor, ID Vijesti
Srdan Kosović, editor, ID Vijesti
Marko Vešović, journalist, DAN
Milka Tadić Mijović, director, CIN-CG
Goran Kapor, journalist, ID Vijesti
Damira Kalač, journalist, ID Vijesti
Danilo Ajković, journalist, TV Vijesti
Jelena Jovanović, journalist, ID Vijesti
Milica Krgović, journalist, DAN
Vuk Lajović, journalist, ID Vijesti
Darko Ivanović, journalist
Svetlana Đokić, journalist, TV Vijesti
Danijela Lasica, journalist, TV Vijesti
Siniša Luković, journalist, ID Vijesti
Draško Milačić, journalist, DAN
Milorad Milošević, journalist, ID Vijesti
Marija Mirjačić, journalist, ID Vijesti
Ana Ostojić, journalist, DAN
Vladimir Otašević, journalist, DAN
Miloš Rudović, journalist, ID Vijesti
Majda Šabotić, journalist, TV Vijesti
Duško Vuković, journalist
Dobrila Plamenac Vuković, editor in chief, PCNEN
Tijana Pravilović, journalist, TV Vijesti
Milena Perović Korać, journalist, Monitor
Bojana Bojović Golijanin, journalist, TV Vjesti
Mileva Kostić, journalist, TV Vijesti

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