Prime Minister Edi Rama has announced that Parliament will pass the controversial and hotly contested “anti-defamation package” on 19 December.
“Defamation in the ordinary state is punishable, defamation in a state of emergency must be super punitive. Fake news and media games in situations like the one we went through are criminal,” he said in a cabinet meeting today.
It is not clear if any changes have been made or will be made to the law after the publication of the latest draft revealed the government had ignored most of the recommendations made by the OSCE Representative of Media Freedom, following a legal review.
The OSCE is currently reviewing the latest draft but has not yet published their findings.
The new law will give government bodies the power to instantly block websites and impose fines reaching as much as EUR 830,000 for what they consider to be violations of the law. These could include breaches of national security or so-called “fake news”. The broadness of the scope leaves it wide open for abuse and is a huge cause for concern for freedom of expression and media freedom in Albania.
Public consultation with international organisations, NGOs , journalists, citizens, and activists was scheduled for last week but was cancelled due to the earthquake that struck on the morning of 26 November. It has been rescheduled for the 10 and 11 of November.
Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha has condemned this, as well as Rama’s recent crackdown on journalists and media portals, calling it “criminal”.
“To use this disaster to shut down portals, Facebook pages and other social networks and threaten reporters from morning to night just because they are critical of the government and bring the voice of citizens left in limbo without any help is criminal.”
He said it was an attempt to “drown out the voice of the citizens and the truth” and called on the prosecution to immediately launch an investigation into the government’s violation of free speech.
“Constitutionally and legally, this is a serious crime that must be punished,” he said.
The Council of Europe registered two threats against journalists and media freedom in Albania on its media freedom portal. Attributing both threats to the Albanian government, they highlighted the blocking of website joqalbania.com and threats made by Prime Minister Edi Rama against journalists and the media. The CoE stated this has a chilling effect on media freedom and is harassment.