Friday 3.7.2020 in Latest Developments in Albania Country Page
Protests against demolition of National Theatre
Plans to demolish the National Theatre building in Tirana have been the cause of numerous protests during the past year. Although the citizens of Tirana, joined by civil society activists, called on the authorities to halt the plan to demolish the building (which is considered to be of cultural heritage for the city), their attempts were unsuccessful and the government approved the demolition of the building of the National Theatre. As a result, many people from different backgrounds took to the streets to protest this decision. They furthermore accused the authorities of starting the demolition while some of the protesters were in the building, thus endangering their lives. During the protest, police failed to manage the situation peacefully and used force to push back masses of protesters. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Sander Lleshaj has defended the actions of the police, claiming that “the police were forced to be violent.”
Protests against sexual violence
On 4th June 2020 thousands of women took to the streets to protest against sexual violence following a case of alleged sexual abuse of a teenager. Police reported that they had arrested several teenagers and a pensioner school guard who are accused of abusing a 15-year-old teenager over two years. Activists condemned the culture of silence and victim blaming prevalent in Albania.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) criticised the continuous negative rhetoric of Prime Minister Edi Rama towards reporters and journalists in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a press statement, RSF further showcased the vulnerable situation of journalists with examples of attacks on journalists, media workers and freedom of expression during the pandemic.
The State Health Inspectorate has requested the closure of the RTV Ora Television station for violating the instructions by the Ministry of Health to allow only two people in television studios at a time. As a reaction to this, RTV Ora's information director, Brahim Shima, stated:
“The government decided on the closure of RTV Ora because in the studio people are allowed to speak their mind.”
He pointed out that this closure was intentional and for reasons that are not connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many other media and journalists view this as an act against freedom of speech and critical journalism in the country.
The Association of Professional Journalists in Albania and the League of Journalists in Albania condemned this move and called on the Albanian government to retract its decision.
“Our associations consider this act a selective gesture, not at all in proportion to the alleged damage, a misuse of power under the pretext of an epidemic, to intimidate the media. A selective zeal for RTV Ora, which was not used in similar cases.This act is a dangerous precedent, which can also be used against critical media by the government, even though the country is in the phase of releasing austerity measures due to COVID-19.”
A journalist was detained during a protest over the government’s decision to demolish the National Theatre building (see peaceful assembly). Politiko.al editor Alfred Lela was arrested during the demonstration while he was attempting to mediate between police officers and protesters. He was detained for two hours and “assaulted and insulted” by police before being released. The International Press Institute and the Association of Professional Journalists in Albania condemned the incident.
IPI condemns the detention #Albanian editor Alfred Lela of @PolitikoAl during a protest in the capital #Tirana yesterday morning.— IPI (@globalfreemedia) May 18, 2020
Police used disproportionate force while arresting the journalist and should apologize. @MediaFreedomEU #MediaFreedomRR