From: Rezearta Çaushaj
The Tahiri Affair as Organized Manipulation of Public Opinion

It appears that every case with public interest, now, is no longer channeled through the pertinent institutions, but, contrarily, served for judgment to the uninformed public opinion. This model is transformed into the standard government formula. For this aim it uses the majority of the media, to inject and make official its version of events or to distort the information being offered.

This information, whether about the government, its policies, the rights of the citizens, corruption, or private information, is manipulated by using the superficial perceptions of society in giving only half of the information and by using a vulgar logic that ignores the simplest of political notions, laws, and unwritten societal norms.

The scheme more or less is as follows: the media posts a news story, without categorizing it, without separating facts from opinions, without quoting sources, badly written by incapable and corrupt journalists, underanalyzed in legal, procedural, ethical or moral aspects, without any question marks, not giving the opportunity to the average citizen, fueled with bombastic headlines and overfilled with vulgar interpretations, even when discussing serious issues of public concern.  This model is specifically dangerous when it comes to court cases, bastions of the judiciary, which should be led by the principles of justice and law.

This formula was applied Friday two weeks ago, before the start of the deliberations of prosecution’s request for the arrest of the deputy Saimir Tahiri by the Council of Mandates and Immunity, which was started with the public declaration of Tahiri himself the previous day. The latter unveiled his defense strategy, based on two main components:

  1. To discredit the wiretappings as an ordinary case, which happens to every politician of his caliber, when two criminals brag to each other about their political acquaintances.
  2. The intimation that these wiretappings become ever more worthless as evidence, at the moment that in our country politicians are not sentenced even though they have been captured committing crimes in flagrante delicto.

These two ingredients attempt to raise doubts about the evidence secured during the wiretapping, therefore automatically politicizing the whole public debate, which at that point was almost entirely against Tahiri. Although in principle Tahiri said that he had no intention of defending himself by using his position as deputy, and that he would let justice undertake all the verification, he did not renounce his immunity. He also ignored the illegal act of selling his car, which in itself is sufficient motive for investigation.

This theater played behind the back of the citizens was a drama unfolded in several acts, which started when loyal media outlets of the government started to publish the same materials, at the same time, with the same content and headline. They initially attempted to discredit the three prosecutors bringing the case before the Council, by labeling them as cousins of the former Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his son, Shkëlzen Berisha, from Tropoja.

In our present case, all media outlets used more or less the same phrase, “The trio of the Prosecutors from Tropoja” or the “Cousins of Berisha”, while the text was similar:

Strong details arrive from the trio of the Prosecutors demanding from the Council of Mandates the removal of immunity and arrest of former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri.

Besim Hajdarmataj from Tropoja is the second cousin of Sali Berisha. He is denounced by Artan Hoxha on television as the man who gave the photos and videos of Police operation Babicë e vogël to Sali Berisha.

Elisabeta Ymeraj from Tropoja was a member of Shkelzen Berisha’s hunger strike in 1999. The wife of Agron Bajrit, second cousin of Shkëlzen Berisha.

Gentian Osmani from Tropoja, a class mate of Shkëlzen Berisha. He closed the case of Gjin Gjoni in Elbasan in 2014 together with Bledar Mustafaraj. At that time Gentian Osmani had been Chief Prosecutor while Bledar Musatafaraj the prosecutor of the case.

By connecting the prosecutors with the former Prime Minister Berisha – who stands suspect together with his son for the Gërdec affair and the killing of the demonstrators on January 21, 2011, and was also involved in protecting Ilir Meta during the so-called 7% scandal in which the latter was captured in camera taking bribe –  the government relativized the crime that former minister Tahiri was suspected of, putting him on the political track.

This was only the prelude to what came after, a massive engagement on social media of government supporters to share articles pre-ordered to accuse the “opposition” for defamation. Yet again the ill-informed Albanian public, unable to ask for justice, was split in two trenches, that attack each other to the profit the politicians.

Not only that but it encouraged the gathering of supporters for the former minister Tahiri. He is accused for “participating in narco-trafficking conducted in cooperation with an organized criminal structure” as well as “passive corruption of high state and local officials.” Clearly, if the accusations are proven, former Minister Tahiri hasn’t been acting alone but has had a lot of collaborators and supporters, which have been accomplice in different levels for the suspected crimes.

This situation would force any government to discourage similar attitudes until the full disclosure of the facts. On the contrary, the pro-government media outlets interpreted the gatherings of supporters as sign of success of Tahiri in his role as a former Interior Minister, and not as a premeditated scene by accomplices in crime.

In the ensuing act, the government continued to lower the credibility of the Prosecution during the session, and through its media outlets, publicized selected materials taken from the speech of the prosecutors, as ridiculous and baseless. Meanwhile, the session of the Council itself was a clear abuse of law combined with direct pressure toward the prosecutors, who transformed in a few hours from the accusation into to accused who even had to answer the questions of the main suspect, Tahiri himself, and his lawyer.

A procedure which was originally intended to give to the judiciary a helping hand for an independent investigation of suspects involved in politics, resulted in the misinformation of the public about the competences of the Council of Mandates and Immunity, by adding to the latter judicial attributes which it doesn’t have.

Simultaneously there are other aspects, which the media outlets bought by the government ignored in their attempt to contentiously misinform the public for reasons of profit, most clearly the facts that:

  • The file of the accused was prepared and came from Guardia di Finanza of Italy, together with the wiretapping and all the details, which fall under the secrecy of the investigation and cannot be made public.
  • The Albanian prosecution has had even before the opportunity to conduct an investigation against former Minister Tahiri, but was pressured by politics didn’t had the courage to do so.
  • As a result, this crusade is neither prepared by the opposition nor was initiated thanks to the courage of the Prosecution. It was forced to start investigations because of external factors. As any opposition would do, it saw an opportunity to react.
  • No matter how painful the failure to resolve the delicate cases, which Sali Berisha, Lulzim Basha, and Ilir Meta are accused of, they have, from the perspective of the law, nothing to do with the crimes that Saimir Tahiri is being accused of. According to the latter, the failure to prosecute one or more previous politicians, is a reason in itself for not starting investigation or sentencing of others. This is an absurd claim, which only serves the untouchability of all politicians.
  • These articles ignore the fact that Edi Rama has had plenty of opportunities to reopen the case of Gërdec, the case of the January 21, or the 7%-affair, as he had promised, but instead chose to benefit politically from them when he to silently approve Penal Code art. 449, which prohibited the reopening of old cases, especially if there is additional evidence against the accused.
  • If the government would have been honest in its declarations to find the truth (or to implement the judicial reform), minimally, it would have created the proper conditions for the Prosecution to conduct investigations without political interference. The attack against the Prosecution not only goes against democratic principles, but also against the spirit of the law “About the organizing and functioning of the institutions to fight corruption and organized crime,” which in article 13 defines the independence of this organ.
  • Contrary to what is being claimed, the Prosecution has the duty to investigate persons/politician even based on information circulating in the public opinion. It verifies if there is any reasonable doubt to open an investigation or arrest the suspect if he endangers the investigation. The collected evidence is examined in court, where the prosecution body confronts the defense, by giving the Court the opportunity to evaluate over the guilt or innocence of the accused.
  • The precedent of this selective interpretation of law when it comes to politicians is dangerous, because it ignores the Constitution and the principles of justice by treating the public opinion, intentionally and easily misinformed, as an authority in deciding the guilt or innocence of a politician, cases for which it has no constitutional mandate or competence to decide.

By analyzing this case, but also others that have come before, we are faced with a propaganda machinery organized on different levels that undermines any attempt to make the government accountable to its own people, a government that constantly manipulates through its controlled media outlets and has managed to undermine the fundamental principles of equality and separation of powers.