Yesterday, the Administrative Court in Tirana ruled that British journalist Alice Taylor should be allowed to stay in Albania and that her residence permit must be issued without obstacle.
Earlier this year, Taylor who was six-months pregnant at the time, applied for a renewal of her residence permit. Having been some days late in applying due to hospitalisation and bed rest due to her pregnancy, the police requested medical certificates to justify it, in accordance with Albanian law. The documents were signed off by the Director of Immigration and Taylor was informed her permit will be ready within a week.
Days later, a smear campaign against Taylor was started by pro-government media portals, branding her a ‘Russian spy’, ‘paid by the opposition’ and a ‘traitor’. They also branded her partner a ‘violent militant’ and published his photo saying that he was wanted by the police.
Taylor then received a call from the Immigration Department, informing her that the approval of her permit “had been revoked on order from above”. She was told she needed to pay a fine, leave Albania and re-enter and start the process from the beginning, something she could not do as she was banned from travel due to her medical conditions. The police refused to provide Taylor with the official letter of refusal, therefore delaying any administrative appeals that she wanted to make.
Whilst still refusing to issue Taylor with this document, private information and false information was leaked to the press allegedly from the immigration department, providing a range of excuses as to why she had been refused. These included saying she did not apply in person, was not employed in Albania, had filled out the wrong form, and was a “security risk”.
Minister of the Interior Sander Lleshi also spoke to the media and told the British Embassy that Taylor had not followed the procedure.
None of these reasons were true, and Taylor, adamant that she had filed the correct documents in line with Albanian law and that the revocation was due to her work as a journalist who is critical of Edi Rama’s government, filed a case in administrative court.
Last week in court, police lawyer Entela Selamini claimed she had not seen Taylor’s medical documents, despite them being presented to the police on several occasions and with one copy bearing the signature of the Director of Immigration.
Yesterday, Selamini tried to argue that no fine had been imposed and asked the court to dismiss the case. Taylor’s lawyer, Boiken Bendo showed the judge multiple instances where the police had demanded a fine from Taylor in official correspondence.
Judge Semiramis Hoxholli deliberated for around 10 minutes before returning a verdict that Taylor should be issued with the permit without any obstacles or penalties, that the police should cover court costs and that there is no right for the police to appeal. It was noted that the decisions of the police were not based in law.
Taylor who writes for Exit.al commented her relief at the decision.
“It was months of hell, not knowing if I was here legally, having information about me being leaked, being targeted by tabloids but now I am happy it is over. I look forward to travelling without restriction, being able to live with my family without fear of state harassment, and conducting my work without limitations.”
Throughout the proceedings, Taylor received support from her union the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Press Institute, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the Albanian Association of Journalists, the Avokati i Popullit, the Helsinki Commission, Albanian Media Council, lawyers Egla Muzaka and Boiken Bendo, and the case was covered by Exit.al, The Shift News, and BIRN, amongst others.
Defamation proceedings against Mero Baze, Gazeta Tema and other local portals are ongoing with the support of Dorian Matlija.