As of now, it is not possible to access the site from within Albania after the police commenced investigations into two site executives Erland Dalliu and Gentian Çengeli for spreading fake news about the Albanian earthquake, causing panic amongst citizens.
The site, joqalbania.com is not available to regular users unless they use a TOR browser, or are using a VPN which ‘piggybacks’ onto an IPN in a foreign jurisdiction to disguise the original location of the user. Such methods are regularly employed in countries with autocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, China, and Russia.
The blocking of the site and investigation of its two executives sparked outrage, including a harsh statement from the Albanian Media Council who accused Prime Minister Edi Rama of illegally shutting down the media portal. They said that he was exploiting the so-called ‘state of emergency’ that was enforced after the earthquake last week, by censoring the media.
“The government should not use this situation as a reason to exert censorship on the media” the AMC stated, adding that the media should also refrain from spreading fake news.
“The media have a duty, especially in this situation, to guard against the publication of unverified news that may spread panic,” they said.
Also over the weekend, 25-year-old Xhuliana Aliaj was arrested for “spreading panic” after she shared information published by an Italian newspaper related to the aftermath of the earthquake.
Last morning, the Durres court found her arrest legal and ordered her to appear before the court twice a months. She is being tried for “the dissemination of false information or notices, whether verbally, in writing, or in another way, in order to create a state of insecurity and panic in people, shall be punishable by a fine or up to five years imprisonment.”
Aliaj had written on Facebook that she was scared of the risk of fuel deposits in Porto Romano exploding after a series of earthquakes that shook the country.
Also yesterday, the prime minister escalated his threats against the Albanian media critical of earthquake relief management. He wrote on Twitter: “Don’t make us do what even your imagination could not fathom!”
Concerns have been raised over the similarity of the situation in Albania now and in Turkey following the 2016 failed coup d’etat attempt. President Recept Tayyip Erdogan enacted a state of emergency that he used to imprison thousands of journalists and activists under allegations of “terrorism” and spreading terrorist propaganda. Although no state of emergency that allows for media censorship has been enacted in Albania, PM Rama has repeatedly threatened that he would close media outlets down based on such state of emergency.
This events are also an indicator of what could happen, should the proposed “anti-defamation package” be enacted into law.