Journalist verbally attacked by the President; poor quality of information promotes fake news

Journalist verbally attacked by the President; poor quality of information promotes fake news
A man is arrested during an earlier protest against COVID-19 measures (REUTERS/Florion Goga via Gallo Images).

Association

The European Commission published its 2020 Enlargement Package report for Albania, emphasising that no progress has been made on the implementation of the process on an enabling environment for civil society. It also noted that the financial sustainability of CSOs remains difficult due to unsuitable fiscal and legal frameworks.

The Monitoring Matrix 2019 Report for Albania found that there is an increase in state institutions’ control over CSOs’ operations through the approval of laws under anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist packages, and mechanisms for state-CSOs’ cooperation are not contributing towards a more enabling environment for civil society development.

In a positive development, a non-governmental organisation, the Local Action Groups (LAGs), was established to sustainably protect the Korab-Koitnik territory by developing the capacity of the local community. Despite a weakening civic space due to the impact of COVID-19, the establishment of LAGs marked heightened civic engagement in nature protection.

LGBTI rights in the spotlight

In a separate development, an analysis by UN Women has reported a rapid increase in violence against women and girls since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report points out how CSOs are rapidly adapting their work to cater to the urgent needs of women and girls, and specifically in Albania, how the Shelter for Abused Women and Girls, which serves lesbian, bisexual and transgender women survivors of domestic violence, is providing safe accommodation, food, hygiene materials and psychological support.

The Executive Director of Aleanca LGBTI, an NGO that provides support for all gender identities in Albania, has said that the COVID-19 circumstances have worsened conditions of the LGBTI community. She highlighted that a survey of the Albanian LGBTI community showed 25.4% of respondents had been forced to live with their unaccepting families, and there was an overall increase in domestic violence.

The Pink Embassy, an NGO working to protect and advance the rights of the LGBTI community in Albania, called on the government to allow for all people to be able get married and adopt children. The Ministry of Justice has hosted public consultations on two laws relating to family and adoption.

In a statement the organisation said:

“Despite internal requirements and international pressure for Albania to guarantee equality in marriage and the responsibilities that come with it, our country continues to openly discriminate against LGBTI persons, from the right to legally recognise their relationships or families, to care for their children, or to adopt.”

Peaceful Assembly

The following protests took place during the reporting period:

  • Over 270 prisoners in three Albanian prisons went on hunger strikes over poor conditions, including not being able to see family members and human rights violations. In response to this, the Minister of Justice dismissedthe director of the Peqin Prison for mismanagement of the hunger strike situation.
  • Nine out of the ten Albanian top-division football teams, together with the support of the Football Professional League, staged a boycott to appeal for more financial support from the government. The Prime Minister responded by turning down the requests and openly criticising the football club owners.
  • Oil workers of the Ballsh refinery led demonstrations and a hunger strike to protest against a year of unpaid wages and to demand the nationalisation of mining and oil. It was reported that police clashed with protesters in Tirana and some protesters were arrested. Eventually an agreement was reached between government and the workers, where workers are to receive salaries for the upcoming year, in addition to social insurance.
  • On 3rd November 2020, Albanian students protested in front of the Ministry of Education to urge the Committee of Anti-Covid Experts to reconsider the decision to continue university teaching online to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Interviews with protesters highlighted the dismay at the last-minute decision which has put many students in financially compromising positions. Police forces called for an end to the protests.
  • On 15th October 2020, many gathered outside the Prime Minister’s office to protest against the introduction of COVID-19 measures which make mask wearing compulsory to prevent the spread of the virus. The demonstration resulted in clashes between the protestors and the police.

Expression

According to a BIRN data analysis, Albania represents a breeding ground for fake news and conspiracy theories, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19. Klodiana Kapo, Executive Director of an Albanian fact-checker, Faktoje, mentioned the shortcomings of state bodies resulting in poor quality of information disseminated to the public.

What we have seen during this period is a total lack of transparency by the Ministry of Health and all these healthcare institutions, creating a situation in which news is only what is produced by the Ministry which in the meantime made it impossible to verify anything.”

Similarly, a different analysis conducted by a local media portal has found the Albanian government has been failing in its obligations to freedom of information.

Incidents against journalists

As reported by Mapping Media Freedom, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) Albania was notified that a lawsuit had been filed against the outlet by businessman Mirel Mërtiri. Mërtiri is demanding compensation in the amount of 300,000 lek (2,700 USD) for moral damages over an investigative story published on the platform tilted, “The Incinerator: How a Politically-Connected Albanian Built an Empire on Waste”. The story described the political connections and the business endeavours of Mërtiri, who is behind a business empire that includes a broad network of companies registered in Albania and in offshore jurisdictions under the names of close associates. The article states that he was granted lucrative state contracts relate to waste management. The matter will be heard by Tirana District Court.

In a separate incident, on 25th October 2020, the President of Albania, Ilir Meta, verbally attacked a journalist who had recently published an investigation on him during a press conference. Adriatik Doçi, a journalist at Shqiptarja News, reported on an investigation into the President’s use of citizenship granting powers. Doçi says that she was blackmailed by the President’s office to stop the investigation.

Koloreto Cukali, Director of the Media Council in Albania, said:

“Journalists should do their job and should not be attacked. If there are facts let the facts come out. Aggressive and offensive language towards journalists regardless of which party they come from is intolerable...”