Threats to media freedom persist in Albania
On 8th March 2017, investigative journalist, Elvi Fundo, was severely assaulted by two unknown assailants at the Tirana train station. The injuries were so severe that the journalist was hospitalised. Fundo has since spoken out about the attack, claiming that it is linked to corrupt media outlets associated with drug trafficking rings. The government has initiated an investigation and international and domestic media watchdogs condemned the attack. The Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA) - the regulatory media body in Albania - declared in regards to the attack:
“This is a grave act and a direct threat to media freedom and freedom of expression”.
In addition, other challenges to freedom of expression in the country persist. The Albanian government uses the legal system to target its critics and independent journalists fear losing their positions. In January 2017, two journalists were fired after expressing their concern when the media outlet owners changed the editorial policy in favour of the the government's position on issues. Moreover, state-owned media lack editorial independence, and self-censorship among media professionals and civil society actors remains widespread.
Albania has experienced several significant protests over the last few months. The opposition Democratic Party has been continuously protesting since mid-February, calling on the government to step down so that free and fair elections can be held. Party leader, Lulzim Basha, has told the more than 1,000 people gathered at the demonstration that the demonstrations will not stop.
The European Union has urged the opposition party to end the protest and focus on cooperating with the government in power in order to implement crucial democratic reforms. Albania will hold parliamentary elections in June 2017.
Also in February 2017, local residents marched approximately 130 kilometres from Zharrez village to Tirana in a silent protest over the government’s refusal to find a solution to the negative impact of oil extraction operations close to their homes. The Zharrez residents remained in front of the Ministry of Energy with their demands, and finally, on 1 March 2017, the government promised to compensate the villagers for the damage to their homes from the nearby oil drilling.
In the above-mentioned situations, CIVICUS research partners reported that there were no cases of a protest being denied, or time and place of a protest being restricted by the authorities. The opposition Democratic Party did have a permit to demonstrate for only four hours, yet they continued protesting for weeks with no interference from the government. While no arbitrary arrests were recorded, the police charged the Party leader, Lulzim Basha, for inciting violence, and if convicted, he would face up to three years in jail.
Several issues of violence at protests were also documented. Two women who participated in the Democratic Party protest in Tirana were physically assaulted by residents of their home town upon their return. And one of the allies of the opposition was physically assaulted by another protester.
According to research partners' analysis of the media environment in Albania, domestic media remain polarised in their reporting of the protests; the more independent outlets focus on the right to peaceful assembly and the justification for the protests. Pro-government outlets more often report negatively about the protesters and their grievances.