Instead to control the work of the police, a journalist was put to polygraph test

Source/Author: Predrag Nikolić
Source/Photo: Miroslav Drobnjak

PODGORICA, 22.12.2017 – Journalists in Montenegro still cannot feel safe while performing their tasks, having in mind that from January to October this year, on average, each month one of their colleagues was attacked or was threatened. This is also shown by the official statistics of the Police Administration, according to which in the first ten months of 2017 eight journalists were attacked in Montenegro. The attacks mainly relate to life threats and other threats, and in the latest case a journalist’s vehicle was burned. Those who are attacked seek help from official institutions, and sometimes it doesn’t end well.

This is the case with Miroslav Drobnjak, a journalist from Pljevlja, whose car was burned on October 11 in front of his family house.

That the fire was deliberately set states the report of the Radovan Popović, a court expert in the field of fire protection, explosions and explosive devices.

“Detailed examination of the scene and the traces found showed that that fire, which occurred on October 11, 2017 around 19h on Ford vehicle (model Focus), owned by Miroslav Drobnjak – which at the time of the incident was in front of the owner’s house- was a consequence of an intentional act of NN person. It was done by sprinkling of a flammable substance (most likely a gasoline) in the lower part of the front windscreen – a wiper compartment and vehicle’s front sides. The substance was set on fire by appropriate means which led to the burning of a vehicle”, states the report.

On the results of the expert’s findings, Drobnjak was informed on November 17. In the meantime, no one was questioned nor any action was undertaken that would leave to resolving of this case. Therefore, on November 22, the Trade Union of Media of Montenegro (SMCG) addressed to the Council for Civilian Control of Police Operations with a request to examine the actions of the police in this case. Also, the Government’s Commission for monitoring actions of competent authorities in the investigation of cases of threats and violence against journalists, assassinations of journalists and attacks on media property requested from Basics State Prosecution Office in Pljevlja and the Police Directorate complete documentation related to the event to determine whether the institutions did everything in their jurisdiction timely in order to resolve the case.

On November 29, at the request of the Council Drobnjak was invited to Pljevlja police station. Drobnjak told us how the hearing went:

“Inspector from Pljevlja told me at first to come at 12 o’clock because they were expecting two inspectors from Podgorica. Later, he told me that inspectors would be late, and that I should come at 13 o’clock. At 13h, after half an hour of waiting, they told me to come at 15h. The hearing started after 15h. They told me first that I said the car was self-combusted, although that’s not true. Questions that followed were like an informal chat – where do you work, are you cold … where does your brother work, where does your sister work, is your father sick …When he asked me “is your father sick,” and he was operated in September, I realized that they knew all information about me. They ask “you are traveling across borders”. Prijepolje is about 30 km away and I often go there for shopping, and my brother is studying in Serbia.  Then questions about jealousy, whether I cheated on my girlfriend. That was funny to me, and they explained that there were many cases in which someone did something out of revenge. “Do you have a land, do you cultivate it …” We lead that kind of a conversation for an hour. All of questions were on private issues, which surprised me because if they came from the Council for Civilian Control of Police Operations I assumed they were supposed to examine whether the police had done their job so far and whether there was progress in the investigation in the case of car burning. It was not clear to me what my family had with the burning and work of the police.”

Soon the questions became “more serious”?

“Then one of the inspectors said “Here is a polygraph, do you know what is it? I said yes. One inspector was on one of my side, the second on the other, and I was in the middle when they told me “We would like to test you on the polygraph”.

Did they tell you that you can reject that testing?

“No. I knew, through my job, that I could reject polygraph testing, even though they did not tell me that. I also knew that it cannot be used as court evidence. They put the paper in front of me and said here, for your signature. I could have said –no-, but I was thinking – why should I do that, I have nothing to hide, I do not have a file, I have never been detained, I have no misdemeanors, I do not hang out with criminals … And If I refused, I would be suspicious right away. And I signed it.

Around 20 questions followed.  Only two or three of them were related to the burning incident. Those obvious one were – are you Miroslav and do you live and work in Pljevlja? And the rest – are you taking drugs, have you ever taken part in drug delivery, do you have any hidden drugs at home, hidden weapons … Do you sign articles with your name. Then, do you often travel across border, are you the perpetrator of any criminal offense … One set of questions and then they would say-let’s do it again. I thought that polygraph did not react because I had nothing to hide, and that’s why they asked to repeat it. After that they showed me trick with cards and told me to negate the right card. When they asked if the card was- queen- and when I said yes, he told then “you see how he reacts now”. I assumed that they counted that I would become more intense and then they moved to new set of questions. Again the same questions, for the fourth time. Then they started to persuade me that polygraph reacted to the question whether I take drugs. They asked me if I had anything to admit. I said no. And they start again.

Was that the end?

They finished then. They took gear off me and told me to wait in front of the office. I waited for about ten minutes when the Head of the Criminal Department told me to go home, that they received request from the Council for organization of the meeting with Chief of the Police and Chief of Criminal Department and that they would call me in the upcoming days to talk with me.

Did they call you?

Yes, after a couple of days. The Chief was kind, he told me they received a request. We talked about two hours. In total, that was the fifth statement given to the police and the Prosecutor’s Office. I asked about polygraph test. He told me that it was an internal matter of the police, that he had not yet received a report, and when he got it, he could not tell anything because it for their use. It is important to me to inform public how they treat journalists who are victims and who have been harmed. I say this hoping to be the last person who has been interrogated like an attacker and who is actually a victim.

Until now, besides Drobnjak, only a few people, whom he indicated that could be connected with burning of his car, have been invited to hearing. He does not have any information whether Pljevlja Basic State Prosecution Office qualified this as a criminal offense or what has been done so far to resolve this incident.

euThis article has been produced as a part of the project Western Balkan’s Regional Platform for advocating media freedom and journalists’ safety with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia and its authors, and can in no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.