Protests against rising cost of living, defamation case against journalist begins
The Law for the Registration of NPOs, approved in 2021, still represents some fundamental problematic issues that need to be amended, such as the high level of disproportionate fines for administrative violations and the lack of a procedure for deregistration of NPOs.
Following a series of legal initiatives affecting the operation of NPOs, in the context of Anti-Money Laundering/Counter Terrorism Financing (AML/CFT), including the law on beneficial owners, the law on the central register of bank accounts, the new NPO registration law and the fiscalisation of the sector, Partners Albania prepared the NPO Sector Risk Assessment Methodology on Terrorist Financing as part of an international response by NPOs to protect civic space and avoid over-regulation of NPOs in the name of AML/CFT, in line with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Recommendation 8 on NPOs. It was prepared through a collaborative process with the participation of NPOs, state authorities and financial institutions, based on a Memorandum of Understanding with the General Directorate of Taxation.
On 12th November, tens of thousands of people protested over rising costs and corruption in Albania. Police and protesters in Albania scuffled in front of Prime Minister Edi Rama‘s office in Tirana after tens of thousands of people gathered there to protest against corruption and the country’s cost of living crisis. After demonstrating peacefully for about three hours, protesters broke through police cordons around Rama’s office and sprayed red and black paint on the main doors to the government building. Police arrested one protester.
Albania’s main opposition Democratic Party announced its intention to hold its protest on 6th December 2022, near the government headquarters, which authorities failed to approve as they deemed the gathering a “security risk” because it coincided with the high-level summit of the European Union and the Western Balkans that was to take place at the same time. The organisers denounced the authorities’ official rejection of the opposition's request to hold a protest near the prime minister's office, while the police emphasised their readiness to guarantee the success of any gathering, which will be held outside the security perimeter of the high-level meeting.
Despite this, the anti-government protest took place as announced, without reports of any violations of the right to protest or the use of excessive power by law enforcement. However, opposition leader Sali Berisha was punched in the face by a male bystander at the protest. The attacker was later arrested by the police.
CSOs from Albania held a protest in front of the Serbian Embassy in Tirana, in support of Kosovo, following the tensions that Serbian authorities have caused in the northern part of the country. In a statement that was read at the protests, the organisers asked the President of Albania, Bajram Begaj, to convene the Security Council. A similar demand was also made by representatives of small opposition parties in Albania.
Local residents also staged protests during the reporting period:
- Residents of Spather village protested to express their dissatisfaction with the state of the local roads leading to and through their village.
- Residents of Fier neighborhood protested against the ongoing electricity restrictions.
- Residents of Bëxulla protested in front of the Prime Minister's Office, requesting to divert the project of the Thumanë-Kashar road, which they argue affects their homes.
- On 26th December 2022, people with disabilities ended the hunger strike after reaching an agreement on the demands addressed to the Ministry of Health.
Following fact-finding missions in Albania by Article 19, the International Press Institute, the European Federation of Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders, the European Broadcasting Union and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the media freedom organisations raised concerns at a press conference in Tirana that despite some progress, the situation for free and independent reporting is deteriorating in the country. They pointed out that Albania has good laws on media freedom and the protection of journalists but is failing to implement them properly. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that journalists in Albania are targeted by organised crime groups and even by police violence and that the state is failing to protect them, while private media outlets are owned by businessmen who have links with politicians.
Media freedom groups have raised concerns about the ongoing backlash following the issuing of a general ban on publication by the Albanian prosecution authorities in connection with a collection of hacked data (see previous update). They emphasised that no journalist or media should face criminal sanctions for the publication of information in the interest of the public.
On 3rd November 2022, on the basis of the "Antimafia Law", the Special Court for Corruption and Organised Crime decided to confiscate most of the assets of media company owner Ylli Ndroqi, including RTV Ora News. The state will own these assets. They were seized in 2020 and 2021 as they are suspected to be the product of criminal activity by the official owners of the TV channel. Among the confiscated assets are 60 per cent of the shares of the company "Ora", which represents "Ora News" television, and 30 per cent of the shares of the company "Channel One". Ndroqi (also known to the police as Xhemal Pasmaçiu) was suspected of involvement in drug trafficking, but was never charged. Albania's anti-mafia law allows authorities to seize assets that cannot be explained as coming from legitimate sources if there is direct evidence that these assets are the proceeds of illegal activities.
Marking 2nd November 2022 - International Day Against Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists - Albania ranks last in the region in terms of reporting attacks and threats against journalists in justice institutions, with only four cases addressed. For the year 2021, there is no case resolved in court and therefore no punishment for the perpetrators, reports the "Safe Journalists" network in Albania. In the Western Balkans, the number of attacks and threats reported according to "Safe Journalists" is 179, of which 19 have been resolved in court and only 12 people have been convicted.
Media freedom groups are demanding a fair trial in a defamation lawsuit against Ora news journalist Isa Miziraj, brought by former chief prosecutor Elizabeth Imeraj. Imeraj was fired in April 2022 as part of the judicial reform process for causing a loss of confidence in the justice system and her inability to justify or explain her assets. They called for “a fair trial with full respect for all rights guaranteed by law, in which the importance of freedom of speech, media and reporting in the public interest is taken into account”. Imeraj brought the case against the journalist after he reported on threats and harassment against those reporting on the process of its verification.
Civic Space Developments