Montenegro's accession into the European Union will be "hampered" if there is no progress on the issue of protection of journalists and freedom of the press, an EU official warned Friday.
After the investigative journalist Olivera Lakic on Tuesday was shot in her right leg when an unknown attacker opened fire in front of her home, the EU Enlargement Commissioner urged authorities in Montenegro to bring culprits to justice.
Many of the dozen or so assaults against journalists or media organisations in the small Balkan country over the last 15 years, including the 2004 murder of editor Dusko Jovanovic, remain unsolved.
"If there is no progress on all this, sustainable progress on which we can rely, this will definitely hamper the European perspective of Montenegro," Johannes Hahn told reporters in Podgorica, where he met Lakic.
The attack on the journalist is "clearly an attack on media freedom," he said, adding that "it's something which is not acceptable for us. This has of course also an impact on the standing and reputation of the country."
He demanded that "the culprits are found" but also "their backers, those who are behind them (to be) brought to court".
Montenegro, home to 650,000 people, hopes to join the European Union by 2025 and has been under growing pressure to deal with the issue of organised crime and media freedom.
Out of 180 countries, Montenegro is ranked 103rd on the 2018 press freedom list of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). According to RSF, the major challenges the country faces are "self-censorship and (the) safety of journalists."
Milo Djukanovic, who had led the country almost without a break from 1991 and 2016 and was elected president in last month election, condemned the attack against Lakic.
The attack on the journalist was an "attack on what is Montenegro's strategic goal, to become a part of free and developed European society in a foreseeable future," Djukanovic told local Radio Danilovgrad.