2019 has been described as the most difficult year for journalists in Albania due to a concerning increase in verbal and physical threats against them. This was reflected in the fact 2019 had the highest instance of reports on the Council of Europe and European Centre for Press and Media Freedom websites than any other year. Threats also came in the form of economic pressure, smear campaigns, administrative and judicial harassment, and the use of Albanian diplomats to exert pressure in European countries.
Here are some examples of documented incidents that threatened journalists, journalism and freedom of expression in Albania in 2019.
- Exit journalist Alice Taylor was attacked by a number of pro-government news portals that said she was a Russian spy and paid by the Opposition. They also attacked her partner, calling him a “violent militant”, “bodyguard of Basha” and said that he was wanted by the police. Just days after the smear campaign started- when she was six months pregnant- her residence permit approval was withdrawn and Minister of the Interior Sander Lleshi publicly defended the move. Taylor took the Ministry of the Interior and the border police to court and the judge and won with the judge ruling against the illegal actions of the State.
- Erion Skendaj was assaulted after reporting on anti-government protests on 28 March. He claimed that a gas grenade was thrown at him by authorities which left him suffering hearing problems in one ear. The grenade, used by special forces emits a loud sound and tear gas. He added he was not doing anything wrong at the time and had a jacket with the News24 logo on, and his press card visible.
- Journalist Basir Collaku received a death threat during a live phone call on Report TV. He was told “Edi Rama will win local elections in all 61 municipalities. I warn Basir Collaku to keep his mouth shut or he will get a bullet behind his ear. He must keep his mouth shut and not talk about drugs. I warn him not to go on [TV] studios and talk about drugs”. Collaku had revealed information relating to the alleged involvement of ex-Minister of the Interior Samir Tahiri in an international drug trafficking ring.
- On 13 April 2019, Albanian police fired tear gas into a crowd during a demonstration in the capital, Tirana, affecting several journalists, according to news reports and video footage of the protest. Eliza Gjediku, a reporter for local TV station Tema TV, was incapacitated by the tear gas and was sent to a local hospital for treatment, according to her employer.
- Journalist Ylli Rakipi received a number of threats against his life following his revelations of corruption regarding the tender of the Outer Ring Road in Tirana. Prime Minister Edi Rama then filed a lawsuit against him for defamation.
- Artur Cani was prevented from filming a public event including Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj at the Artificial Lake in Tirana. The Mayor’s bodyguards intervened and attempted to seize his phone before threatening him and calling the police.
- Nikolle Lesi, owner and editor of Koha Jone was attacked by the police and prevented from working. He claims that during the anti-government protests the police attempted to arrest him as he was heading to the newsroom. The police followed him to his car, blocked his way and tried to arrest him, giving no reason for doing so.
- Ola Xama from TV Klan was verbally and physically assaulted by a Guard of the Republic outside of the Assembly building in Tirana. While waiting to conduct an interview, she was violently pushed out of the way before being subjected to verbal harassment by the state employee.
- Dorjana Bezat was forcibly prevented from reporting on the use of gas on civilian homeowners who were being forced from their properties so they could be demolished to make way for a new road. Her cameras were blocked and she was told she would be arrested if she continued filming.
- Renaldo Salijani was assaulted by the bodyguard of Arta Marku as he tried to get a statement from the at-the-time chief prosecutor. Marku saw and was aware of the incident but failed to intervene or condemn the actions of her staff member.
- A Municipality of Tirana employee called Exit journalist Alice Taylor a “troll” and published details of her private life on social media.
- An Exit investigation revealed how Albanian Embassies and Diplomatic staff in France and Austria were being used by the government to intimidate editors of news portals over their reporting of anti-government protests.
- After Bild journalist Peter Tiede published a number of leaked prosecution wiretaps implicating Prime Minister Edi Rama and his associates in vote-buying, voter threatening, and election manipulation, Rama threatened to sue him in a German court. He announced he had hired EUR 750 per hour German lawyer Matthias Prinz to take legal action against him but the case never made it to court.
- On 29 June 2019, an Albanian journalist and cameraman from the TV channel News 24, Enver Doçi, was attacked by police officers while filming the arrest of demonstrators in Dibra (the city has been affected by suspicions of electoral fraud). The police beat his legs and one arm violently. During the attack, his phone was destroyed and confiscated by the police.
- The car of writer and journalist Fatos Lubonja was attacked with a rock. The police denied that the vandalism had anything to do with his work as a journalist but Lubonja stated that the attack was inspired by Prime Minister Edi Rama’s continuous degradation of journalists.
- On the eve of the launch of the new television season, the first Albanian 24-hour news television channel, News 24, announced the closure of two talk shows: Ylli Rakipi’s “The Unexposed Ones” and Adi Krasta’s “Krasta / A Show”. Both programs were critical of Prime Minister Edi Rama and aired for a year on News 24 owned by the Focus Media Group. Journalist Adi Krasta had his employment terminated last weekend after the president of News 24, Irfan Hysenbelliu, was reportedly “threatened” by the Prime Minister and the Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj. On 19 July 2019, journalist Artur Cani had revealed that the Prime Minister had met with the owner of News 24 to ask for the dismissal of journalist Ylli Rakipi, warning at the time that Adi Krasta was likely to lose his job as well.
- On 30 November 2019, the information website joqalbania.com was blocked by the Electronic and Postal Communications Authority (AKEP), Albania’s telecommunications regulator. AKEP did not issue an official statement regarding its action nor the legal grounds in support of such blocking. The website’s executives have since opened a new domain, joq-albania.com, which is accessible from all networks within the country. However, the original website remains blocked for domestic access, while the legality of this action is still under question.
You can find an up-to-date list of all Prime Minister Edi Rama’s insults against journalists here.