From: Alice Taylor
Albanian Police Criticised for ‘Deliberately’Targeting Journalists in Protest

Albanian police have been criticised by international media freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders for “deliberately” targeting clearly identifiable journalists with water cannons and tear gas following Saturday’s unrest.

On Saturday, a conflict took place at the Democratic Party headquarters in Tirana as supporters of party founder and ex-prime minister and president Sali Berisha stormed the building, which had been barricaded by followers of Chairman Lulzim Basha. Protestors used a metal battering ram, crowbars, and sledgehammers to break down the door, as well as ground and first-floor windows.

After one hour, the police and special forces arrived and dispersed the crowd in moments with tear gas and water cannons. Several journalists were targeted, including camera operators for Ora News and other stations.

Other journalists suffered issues with breathing and eyesight from the gas and the jets of high-pressured water.

Reporters Without Borders called for sanctions for those responsible for police violence against journalists.

Albanian authorities have been repeatedly called out over the indiscriminate use of these methods during protests, to the detriment of media workers, whose job it is to be there.

In 2019, at opposition-led anti-government protests, countless journalists were targeted with tear gas and water cannons over the course of several weeks of demonstrations. Some were hospitalised, and other reports of police assaulting them with batons. The authorities refused to cooperate with journalists who demanded to know what chemicals were being used against them due to fears of prolonged exposure. No charges were brought.

Then in 2020, during the demolition of the National Theatre, police assaulted and detained multiple journalists while they were covering the protests. Officers had no name badges or numbers, a move the at-the-time Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj defended, meaning they could not be identified or have complaints filed against them.

Later that year, following the murder of an unarmed young man, Klodian Rasha, by an on-duty police officer, large protests erupted around the country and in the capital of Tirana. As well as allegedly assaulting and detaining minors, there were multiple reports of assault and detention of journalists, including getting them to sign false confessions to be released.

Just two days before the protest, special forces in Shkodra assaulted a journalist. While on a walk with his children, Simon Shkreli came across the local police force and RENEA operatives doing a sweep of the area. He put on his journalist badge and proceeded to record the scene. A police officer in civilian clothing approached him and asked him to stop recording before Shkreli identified himself as a journalist.

Albanian Journalist Attacked by Special Police Forces in Shkodra

According to Shkreli, he was recognized by the head of the Shkodra Police who took him aside and asked him again to stop recording. When Shkreli refused, a RENEA operative approached him, grabbed him and removed the journalist badge while using denigrated language towards Shkreli, in the presence of his children.

These incidents form a part of a long list of physical attacks on Albanian journalists that have taken place over the last years. You can see documented incidents from 2019, 2020 and 2021 here.

The seriousness of the issue is further compounded by the fact that the police consistently fail to prosecute crimes against journalists. Death threats, assaults, obstructions, verbal abuse, and other offences are routinely dismissed or just investigated while never proceeding to court. There have been no convictions of crimes against media workers in recent years in Albania.