“Someone took ten years of my life” – Montenegrin journalist

By Emil Weber – 13.12.2017

The Montenegrin investigative journalist, Mr Tufik Softić, has recently been awarded 7,000 euros by the Constitutional Court of Montenegro for the moral harm caused by the authorities’ failure to effectively investigate two cases of serious attacks against him.

Tufik Softić. Photo by MLDI

Mr Softić was working for Radio Berane and the daily newspaper Republika when he was attacked near his home in November 2007. At the time, he had published an article dealing with the criminal activities of a drugs gang.

Then in August 2013 he was targeted by a car bomb attack.

The Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), which supported Mr. Softić together with Human Rights Action (HRA), said no investigation had started on the first attack until July 2014 and “multiple errors had been made by the investigating authorities in the ensuing years”.        

“The Basic Court in Podgorica (in October 2017) found that the authorities did not act expeditiously enough in hearing the victim, interviewing suspects, and collecting evidence. It was also critical of the fact that no perpetrator had been brought to justice”, the MLDI reported on November 2nd.

It also said Judge Milena Brajović awarded the compensation to Mr Softić “in the name of mental suffering already incurred and recurring in the future due to violation of (his) personal right to (an effective) investigation and in the name of a threatened and future fear of another murder attempt”.

In late November, the Constitutional Court of Montenegro upheld the basic courts’ decision.

Journalist: “My daughter found me in a pool of blood”

Mr Tufik Softić told The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) that the two attacks completely changed his life and the life of his family members.

“My daughter, who was then (at the time of the first attack) nine years old, and who found me in a pool of blood, experienced a trauma that required her to visit a psychotherapist for two years”, he said. “For me it meant three years of a life followed under a 24-hour police escort for security, which was very hard and narrowed the space of my personal freedom”.

On the other hand, there was no progress in the investigation. “As the case remained unresolved, I meet almost daily with people who I believe were somehow involved in the attack in 2007, which is not at all pleasant”, Mr Softić said. “I feel myself like someone took ten years of my life”.

The journalist says that concerning the first case, which was designated as attempted murder, he knows who sent the threats to him. “But also the police have the so-called operational knowledge, for which, unfortunately, there is no evidence that behind the attack is (a) criminal narco gang, very organised and with a strong branch in Berane”.

“In the second case, the activation of an explosive device under the car in 2013, I have no idea who could be behind it, but I believe it is also a consequence of a series of texts about a narco gang and other criminal groups in Montenegro, which I investigated and wrote about in Montenegrin independent media”.

Mr Softić argues that the absence of an effective investigation on the attacks against him could be explained by the connection between crime and government. “I strongly believe that narco gangs were linked to government structures in Montenegro and that the budgets of the small Balkan states are, to a great extent, filled with grey economy and smuggling of all kinds. How else to explain the fact that the people who I initially marked as possible suspects were interrogated only seven years later, except for the fact that they were strongly protected by the authorities”.

He said he would be “completely lost” without the legal support from the HRA, MLDI and colleagues in Montenegro. “They helped me to internationalise the case and […] to overcome a difficult period in my life, and finally come, if not to justice and punishment for the perpetrators, then at least to the fact that the Constitutional Court, and before that the Basic Court, declare state institutions guilty of ineffective investigation”.

“An important precedent”

Mr Padraig Hughes, Legal Director at MLDI, which funded Mr. Softic’s case and provided input on international law relevant to the case, says that the court decisions have established “an important precedent”.

“It was the first time the Montenegrin courts explicitly ruled on the authorities’ obligation to investigate attacks on journalists”, Mr Hughes told ECPMF. “However, unfortunately, impunity is all too common around the world when it comes to such attacks. In the last decade, only 4% of cases involving the murder of journalists around the world have resulted in the prosecution of those responsible. This statistic demonstrates the importance of judicial intervention, such as has happened in this case, to ensure states discharge their obligations under international law and bring to justice those who are responsible for violence against journalists”.

Mr Hughes said these court decisions “are a crucial step towards obtaining justice for Mr. Softic” and will go some way towards “addressing the chilling effect to journalism that has been caused by impunity in Montenegro”. 

Ms Tea Gorjanc Prelević, executive director at Human Rights Action (HRA), says they begun issuing alerts because they were “disturbed by the fact the investigation was in a limbo without competent state prosecutor showing any particular interest” in the case.

“Unfortunately, (Mr. Softić’s case) is not so unusual”, Ms Prelević says. “Montenegro has seen the unresolved assassination of the editor-in-chief of daily Dan, Dusko Jovanovic, in 2004, and the beating-up of the director of daily Vijesti in 2008, as well as death threats and other type of attacks on journalists”.

Ms Prelević said there were 55 cases of attacks against journalists listed in a report published by Human Rights Action in November 2016 

 “Only one third of those attacks were investigated and punished, and only one out of several most serious ones”, she said. “So one could say that impunity for the attacks on journalists in Montenegro rules. The Constitutional Court of Montenegro’s decision comes as confirmation of the problem, but still does not provide for personal liability of those responsible for ineffective investigation and pretty much ruined chances for criminal justice to ever be served in that (Mr. Softić’s) case”.

Ms Prelević says that the Constitutional Court’s decision – “which for the first time affirmed the obligation of the state to provide effective investigation of attack on journalists in Montenegro – should be sufficient warning for the competent authorities never to repeat the same mistakes”.

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