A member of the public, who also happened to be a journalist was stopped and harassed by police after attempting to film the Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj at a public event.
Veliaj has long stopped giving interviews to journalists or holding press conferences, trying to maintain a grip on the public perception of him. In addition to this, Exit also found a number of fake profiles, commenting in support of him on social media – all adding to this carefully curated presentation of his popularity.
Unfortunately now it seems that not only does Veliaj want to limit the access of journalists to him, but that he wants to forcibly stop members of the public from filming any of his activities in public.
Two days ago, Artur Çani was going for a run around the artificial lake area of Tirana. Realising that there was an activity taking place that the Mayor was attending, he stopped to take out his phone to film the proceedings. Immediately, Veliaj’s bodyguards intervened and attempted to remove the phone and to stop him from filming, before calling the police.
Çani, a veteran journalist, was jogging in the park, enjoying a public space. There is no legal basis for the actions of the bodyguards and police, be it towards journalists or members of the public.
“I was jogging in the Lake Park when I saw Erion Veliaj at ‘The Library’. I approached, took out my phone and his bodyguards stopped me. The removed me from there forcefully and I asked: “Are you bodyguards?” They called the police then, who told me there was a denunciation made against me and they wanted to take me to the police station. After we debated, they then told me there was no denunciation.” – Çani told Dosja.al news portal.
Some of the conversation is translated here:
Police officer 1: You have to deal with them [the bodyguards].
Çani: No, it was you who removed me from there. They stopped me. I caused no problem. I was just standing there.
Police officer 2, talking to someone on the phone: They [the bodyguards] told me to let him go.
Çani: She [police officer] will go on TV tonight. On 20 TV stations, not just one. And then you will try to find out who they [the bodyguards] were.
Police officer 1: Sir, could you please remove that [the phone]?
Police officer 1: It is not allowed.
Çani: What is the law prohibiting it? Just tell me that and I will stop recording.
Police officer 1: I am going to take you to the police station.
Çani: Fine, do it, but for what reason?
Police officer 1: Because it’s not allowed to record here.
Police officer 1: Because I am on duty.
Çani: I am also on duty. Three persons stopped me…
Police officer 2: Now we are going to take you to the police station.
There is no law against a citizen or journalist filming anyone, even the Mayor, in a public place during a public event. The behavior of the bodyguards was not only illegal, but the subsequent intervention of the police raises serious concerns in terms of press and public freedom.
Harassing a member of the public, merely for filming a public event on his mobile is not acceptable but is yet another example of the way in which Albanian politicians disregard the media, and members of the public.
Following the news that Albania dropped seven places in the 2019 World Press Freedom Rankings compiled by Reporters Without Borders, Edi Rama took to Twitter to deny the issue. Referring to “trashcan” media, he accused the opposition of breaches of media freedom several years ago, and insisted that “under this government there is no blackmailed media and denied freedom”.