Albania's 2018 Round-Up

Peaceful Assembly

FEBRUARY – MARCH

At the end of March 2018, truck drivers from Kosovo protested against Albania’s first toll road linking Albania and Kosovo. Although the protests were peaceful at first, they soon turned violent. Several thousand residents from the nearby town of Kukes clashed with police, while the booths and offices of the toll road company were burnt by protesters. The police arrested 23 people and detained some in Kukes and others in Tirana.

APRIL – MAY

The protests regarding the toll road continued into April 2018, those arrested were expected to appear in court in March accused of violence and arson. In response, a protest was organised in Tirana calling for their release. The government faced criticism for taking a heavy-handed approach to the protests, on 4th April 2018, a judge validated the prosecutor's request to remand ten people involved and free the rest. The Albanian Prime Minister stated that “with vandals we will deal as the breakers of law deserve to be dealt with”. 

JUNE – JULY

Following allegations that one of the Ministers in Edi Rama’s cabinet is involved in the drug trade, the main opposition party called for mass protests. The protest was held on 26th May 2018, but despite the huge build-up to the protest, the turn-out was lower than expected. Despite this, there were some attempts by the protesters to escalate the situation by trying to break through the security fence

In this context, Prime Minister Edi Rama was ‘welcomed’ with protests in his visits in Diber, Elbasan and in Peshkopia, where he had to be escorted and leave with a helicopter to stop the situation from escalating. At the protest in Diber, there was an incident where an opposition MP was involved in a scuffle with the police. Reports from the opposition claimed that the MP had injuries on his body. There were protests against the Prime Minister even in Vlora, where the crowd had signs of “you are the big fish Prime Minister” and symbolically threw fish at him.

Expression

FEBRUARY – MARCH

A three-month long investigative research conducted by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and Reporters Without Borders in early 2018, highlighted how media ownership was concentrated among a few powerful individuals. An analysis of the media landscape in Albania showed that a few families own 90% of the media outlets in the country and have excessive influence on public opinion. This concentration of power seriously threatens media pluralism and cast doubts on the effectiveness of efforts to make Albanian media more independent, plural and sustainable.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, during a visit to Albania, underlined the precarious working conditions for journalists, which negatively impacts their labour rights. Yet, the Representative welcomed several positive developments concerning the public service broadcaster, which has had positive impact on media freedom. In a statement, Désir said: 

“The economic status of journalists in Albania remains one of the most pressing issues in the country. The nonexistence of working contracts and delays in the payment of salaries and social contributions entail a risk of self-censorship.”

Amnesty International also noted that physical attacks against investigative journalists in Albania were perpetrated by organised criminals and owners of private companies in its annual report.

APRIL-MAY

According to Freedom House, Albania retained a “Partly Free” status in INGO Freedom House's "Freedom in the World Index". The 2018 Nations in Transit Report stresses that a number of structural problems continued to beset the Albanian media, including self-censorship and the intimate connections between politics, business, and media. This has also been confirmed in US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices, with the main issue in Albania being “limitations on expression and the press, including self-censorship and intimidation of journalists driven by financial and political interests.”

While Reporters without Borders increased Albania's ranking by one place, the report also noted several issues regarding Albania’s Freedom of Press. In particular, the report pointed to a few instances where the Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama, had called the journalists: “Ignorant”, “Poison”, “Charlatans” and most worryingly, “Public Enemies”.

JUNE – JULY

Reporters Without Borders condemned the attack of a Demokracia e Re journalist during opposition protests. Bledi Kasmi was attacked by police during an opposition protest demanding the resignation of Minister of Interior Fatmir Xhafaj. Reporters Without Borders called on Prime Minister Edi Rama to denounce the violence by the police on the journalist, as well as to tone down his aggressive rhetoric against the free press, which they claim has led to a hatred of independent media. The opposition party leader, Lulzim Basha, condemned the attack on the journalist and called the Prime Minister Rama “an ignorant autocrat”. The journalist was later treated in hospital for minor injuries. Footage of the incident can be seen below. 

AUGUST – SEPTEMBER

On 30th August 2018, unidentified assailants attacked a journalist's home in Tirana. Klodiana Lala, a crime reporter for the TV channel News 24 is well known in Albania for her investigative work exposing corruption. The perpetrators peppered the journalist's family home with bullets. Lala said that she and her family do not have any ongoing feuds with anyone, leading her to believe that the attack was motivated by her journalistic work. The attack was condemned universally by politicians from all sides of the political aisles, as well as by embassies, intergovernmental representatives etc. The perpetrators are yet to be found.

The leader of the Union of Albanian Journalists, Aleksandar Cipa highlighted the poor working conditions for journalists in Albania, stating that over 45 Albanian journalists are seeking to leave the country due to an increasing number of threats for doing their job. Cipa also stated that like many other cases where journalists are threatened and shot at, the case of Klodiana Lala will never be solved.

Association

JUNE – JULY

Local CSO, Partners Albania published two reports, highlighting that Albanian CSOs face several challenges when operating as a result of the legal and regulatory framework. One of the reports, describing the enabling environment for civil society in Albania, noted that CSOs enjoy freedom of association based on the current legal framework, but the registration procedures of non-profit organisations are still problematic, presenting high financial and human costs. The other report focused on the fiscal treatment of Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs), which does not fully reflect the nature and mission of CSOs, and its implementation in practice is unclear and misinterpreted by both tax authorities and NPOs.