Iron bars, automatic gunfire and impunity stalk Albania’s journalists


A small protest by journalists and citizens after the attack on Klodina Lala’s parental home. Credit: Fjori Sinoruka

In the early hours of 30 August, investigative journalist Klodiana Lala’s parental home was sprayed with bullets. Luckily no one was injured.

Lala, a crime reporter for Albania’s News 24 TV, connected the incident with her work as a journalist, saying that neither she nor her family had any personal conflicts that would spur this type of incident. The attack drew rapid condemnation and calls to bring the perpetrators to justice from concerned citizens and politicians, including the country’s prime minister, Edi Rama, who described it as a “barbarous” act. He pledged that the authorities would spare no efforts to investigate the attack.

Rama’s fine words about this attack belie the reality of most crimes against journalists in Albania: identification and prosecution rates of perpetrators are near zero.

When City News Albania’s editor Elvi Fundo was brutally assaulted at 11am in crowded central Tirana, he too received solidarity from the country’s politicians and press, including a note from Rama. But 17 months later, those expressions of support haven’t translated into action from prosecutors.

The attack on Fundo, in which he was beaten with iron bars by two men in hoodies just metres from his office, left him unconscious with serious injuries to his head and an eye.

To add insult to his injuries, Fundo was told on 31 August 2018 that prosecutors were suspending the investigation into his assault because of the lack of suspects.

“This is a grotesque decision. Investigations are not conducted thoroughly. I had to force authorities to seek out more footage from the bars around the area after I left the hospital. They didn’t seem very keen to do so,” he said.

Fundo’s lawyer challenged the decision in court, emphasising that he has given prosecutors information, he said, that can lead investigators to those that ordered the attack.

“I will never stop pushing them to bring the authors of the assault on me to justice since this is not a case lacking in information. I believe the police and prosecutors are just afraid of those who ordered the attack on me,” he said.

While intimidation is a criminal offence in Albania and is punishable by a fine or up to two years in prison, journalists find themselves without much support when they are threatened due to their professional duties.

Very often, prosecutors are reluctant to even open a case and when they do are eager to drop the charges, as was the case against a man who threatened a journalist on Facebook.  

Dashamir Bicaku, a crime reporter who acted as a fixer and translator for a Daily Mail journalist, received an anonymous threatening message on June 17 2018 via his Facebook account. The threat came two days after the Mail published an investigation into Elidon Habilaj’s fraudulent asylum claim and subsequent career in British law enforcement, for which Habilaj was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in absentia.

“I’ll come straight to the point! I’ll come and get you so that there’ll be nothing left of you and yours!”, the message read. He reported the incident to the police the next day, alleging to law enforcement that Habilaj was the only person who would have a motive to threaten him.

But on 31 July 2018, he received a letter from the Vlora prosecutor’s office telling him that they had decided not to open an investigation into the case. According to Bicaku, the prosecutors said that Habilaj had denied sending a threatening message to the journalist and — even if he had — the message was not serious.

A few days later Bicaku learned that a close relative of Habilaj was working as a prosecutor in the same unit.

“What happened is a clear signal about the connections that those involved in organised crime have with people in the justice system,” Bicaku said.

Even when the aggressor has been clearly identified, negligence by the investigating institution makes appropriate punishment difficult.

Julian Shota, a correspondent of Report TV, was threatened with a gun by Llesh Butaku, the owner of a bar in the town of Lac where an explosion had taken place. When the journalist identified himself, Butaku demanded that he leave and not report the incident. When Shota refused, Butaku loaded a gun and pointed it at the journalist’s head.

Shota said he was saved by Butaku’s relatives, who grabbed his hand to prevent him from shooting. The journalist immediately reported the incident to police, but three hours passed before they arrived to detain Butaku.

“In three hours you can hide a rocket let alone a handgun,” Shota said. “The prosecutor received me in his office telling me clearly that I should not expect a lot since no gun was found on him.”

After seven hours Butaku released and the charge for illegal possession of firearms, which could have carried a prison sentence, was dropped.

“Instead of being investigated for attempted murder, Butaku is only being investigated for making threats,” he said.

Artan Hoxha, a prominent investigative journalist with over 20 years of experience, remembers tens of case when he was threatened because of his job, but that “every single case was suspended without any success”.

“I rarely report the threats that I receive to the authorities anymore. I know it is not worth even to bother doing so,” he said.

Part of the problem is that the Albanian judicial system is considered one of the most corrupt in Europe. It is currently undergoing a radical reform overseen by international experts in which all the country’s judges and prosecutors are being put through a vetting process.  

As of August, 45 judges and prosecutors have been evaluated. Twenty-one failed and will be unable to continue to work in the judicial system.

Dorian Matlija, attorney and executive director at Res Publica, a centre for transparency, considers the prosecution the most problematic branch of the judicial system.

“Journalists are right, the prosecution is infamous for its bad work and it is one of the less scrutinised institutions over its decisions despite having a lot of power within the system,” he said.

According to Matlija, when journalists received death threats or are sued, they often find themselves alone.

“They have difficulties accessing and navigating the judicial system while the media owner is often the first to abandon them to keep trouble at bay,” Matlija said.

To remedy this, he said that is very important to create free legal help for journalists, not only when they face prosecution, and also to push for employment rights.

Journalists consider the lack of judicial protection a big obstacle in continuing doing investigative journalism in Albania.

“Is very difficult to investigate organised crime in Albania, since you don’t have the minimum protection and media owners can throw you out in the first place,” Bicaku said.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1537456192915-fc339c8f-4676-3″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Confronting SLAPP suits: Don’t let them silence you


Daphne Caruana Galizia protest 3

Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese investigative journalist who was assassinated in October 2017, had numerous lawsuits pending at the time of her murder.

Around the world, big business and corrupt politicians are using threats of legal action to silence journalists and other critics — including NGOs and activists.

Usually this starts with a letter threatening expensive proceedings unless online articles are rewritten or removed altogether, and demanding an agreement not to publish anything similar in the future. The letters often tell the recipient that they cannot even report the fact that they have received the letter.

This process is known as a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). SLAPPs are designed to intimidate and silence critics by burdening defendants with huge legal costs. The purpose of SLAPPs is not to win the case. They are vexatious and are designed to eat up time and resources. They are a way to harass and intimidate journalists and others and dissuade them from reporting.

SLAPP suits are a particular problem for independent media outlets and other small organisations. They are financially draining and can take years to process. Faced with the threat of a lengthy litigation battle and expensive legal fees, many who receive SLAPPs are simply forced into silence.

Don’t let them silence you

Index believes that by encouraging journalists and media outlets to talk more openly about these threats, we can begin to put an end to the use of these vexatious lawsuits that threaten democracy.

We support an initiative by members of the European Parliament for a new directive to tackle SLAPPs.

We also know that getting such changes takes time. But it can be done. In the United States, 34 states have enacted laws to combat SLAPPs. California, which adopted its anti-SLAPP legislation in 2009, enables defendants to sue the original plaintiff for malicious prosecution or abuse of process.

In 2015 Canada passed the Protection of Public Participation Act, which aimed to implement a fast-track review process to identify and end vexatious lawsuits.

In the meantime, there are some steps that all journalists can take to help put an end to this practice.

1. Know you are not alone

Journalists from Albania to Japan have received such letters. In Malta, for example, The Shift News website received a letter late last year from law firm Henley and Partners demanding an article be removed. Henley and Partners also stated that the letter was not to be made public.

Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese investigative journalist who was assassinated in October 2017, had numerous lawsuits pending at the time of her murder. She was being sued by Pilatus Bank, a Maltese-based financial institution she frequently criticised. The lawsuit was filed in the USA and dropped following the killing.

Other Maltese media groups, faced with legal threats, have complied with Pilatus Bank’s requests, and deleted and amended articles in their online archives. Pilatus denies any wrongdoing.

In the UK, Appleby, the firm associated with the Paradise Papers, is threatening legal action against the Guardian and the BBC, demanding they disclose any of the six million Appleby documents that informed their reporting and seeking damages for the disclosure of what it says are confidential legal documents.

2. Tell others if you receive a letter

Speak to someone you trust. This could be a colleague at your place of work, your local union or a representative from a nonprofit organisation working in your country or region. Nonprofit organisations and others working in the field of journalist safety include:

Article 19

Committee to Protect Journalists

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom

European Federation of Journalists

International Press Institute

Index on Censorship

Reporters Without Borders


A major fear when receiving a SLAPP letter from a large law firm can be a sinking feeling that you might indeed have something wrong with your story. This casts a long shadow of self-doubt and can prevent journalists even from discussing the letters with each other within the same newsroom.

If you receive these legal threats, discuss them with journalists from other publications who are working on similar stories. This is often the only way to find out that the subject of your investigations is trying to shut down the public discussion systematically. “Discovering that pattern is not only a story in itself, but critically important in helping journalists work together to defend themselves,” says investigative reporter Matthew Caruana Galizia.

3. Report it

If you work in one of the countries covered by the project, you should report such threats to the Index on Censorship Mapping Media Freedom platform, which documents threats to media freedom. Index works with other organisations to raise the worst cases with the Council of Europe so that the council can raise cases directly with the governments concerned.

When you document these threats on Mapping Media Freedom, you help to show that they exist and are a problem for journalists and the public, who are robbed of their right to know. Once we have that documentary evidence, we can push harder for a change in legislation. We believe that the number of threats would speak for themselves, if everyone in the countries we cover reported them.

4. Know your rights

Get expert legal advice but remember that not all lawyers are the same. There are lawyers who are experienced in dealing with SLAPPs. For example, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom has a legal team that can advise on SLAPP lawsuits and Doughty Street Chambers has an International Media Defence Panel who regularly assist journalists and NGOs faced with these kinds of threats.

Have you received a SLAPP letter? Let us know. Spreading the word about this cases is important in tackling the problem. The more we can document the extent of this issue, the easier it will be to address it. Please let us know by contacting Joy Hyvarinen, Head of Advocacy, at [email protected]. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1523875014232-cb75410f-355e-4″ taxonomies=”8996″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Lawsuits are discouraging quality journalism in Albania

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Albaia MMF October 2017

Albania’s mainstream media outlets have been reluctant to cover and expose corruption in the country, and observers blame vexatious lawsuits for the hesitancy.

In June 2017, Gjin Gjoni, a court of appeals judge in Tirana, and his wife Elona Caushi, a businesswoman, filed charges against BIRN Albania along with its journalist Besar Likmeta and Aleksandra Bogdani, and separate charges against the newspaper Shqiptarja, along with its journalists Adriatic Doci and Elton Qyno.

BIRN Albania, which specialises in investigative reporting, publishing and media monitoring, along with Likmeta and Bogdani were accused of causing the couple reputational damage and anguish, for which Gjoni and Caushi are demanding 7 million Lek (€54,000) in compensation.

The BIRN Albania journalists had written about the closure and subsequent reopening of an investigation, carried out by the High Inspectorate for Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflicts of Interest, into Gjoni for concealing wealth, falsifying official documents and money laundering.

In another article, BIRN Albania listed Gjoni as one of the ten richest judges in the country.

In a separate lawsuit, Gjoni and Caushi, based on the same reference, are asking for 4 million Lek (€30,000) in compensation from Shqiptarja, Doci and Qyno.

Kristina Voko, the executive director of BIRN Albania, considers the lawsuit malicious in nature. She pointed to the high journalistic standards held by the organisation for the work it produces.

“We are confident we will win the case because our reporting has been in public interest and solidly based on facts,” she told Index.

Doci wrote on Facebook that he was honoured by the lawsuit and that he would not remove anything in his article about Gjoni because he considers it to be accurate.

Media organisations within the country and internationally have expressed solidarity with BIRN Albania and Shqiptarja. Many think the cases will further discourage investigative journalism, which is already scarce.

Flutura Kusari, a media lawyer, said in an article published at the website Sbunker that the Gjoni lawsuits fell under the category of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), which she believes are being used to intimidate Albanian journalists.

“In the SLAPP lawsuits you can see prima facie that are not based in facts and they are going to be unsuccessful in the court. With them the plaintiff does not aim to win the case, but aims to frighten and discourage journalists from further reporting issues of public interest, making them pass through long and costly court processes,” she wrote.

The Union of Albanian Journalists called for Gjoni to stand down while the case is ongoing as his position in the judicial system may influence the decisions.

Blendi Salaj, the vice chairman of Albanian Media Council, considers the case as one against investigative journalism that also aims to keep the media silent.

“There are no grounds for this case but the fact that true journalism and the dissemination of information goes against the interest of subjects whose shifty activities are revealed in the press,” he told Index.

Salaj also pointed to the large damages requested as compensation by the plaintiff.

“The amount of money they request is meant to scare, worry and intimidate journalists and outlets that expose facts they don’t want out there,” he said.

Kristina Voko also agrees that lawsuits are being used as a form of intimidation.

“It is true that during the last year, there has been an increased number of lawsuits against Albanian journalists or media outlets from judges or private companies involved in different concessionary agreements,” she told Index.

“This poses concerns related to media freedom in the country,” she said.

Investigating private companies also poses difficulties for journalists in the country. It is already a rare practice in the mainstream media as result of advertising contracts and strong ties that some of these companies have with politicians.

Albania has begun the implementation of an important judicial reform after almost two years of adopting laws that aim to clean up corruption in politics.

The reform was strongly pushed by the European Commission and the United States, and is considered crucial for Albania to advance in its bid to join the European Union.

A vetting process for all judges and prosecutors in the country supervised by an international body is underway as the first step to reform the system. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1506959873796-92fda719-8e40-6″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Mapping Media Freedom: Journalists detained at Russian protests


Protesters in St. Petersburg demonstrated against corruption in Russia (Photo: Andrey Kalikh)

Protesters in St. Petersburg demonstrated against corruption in Russia (Photo: Andrey Kalikh)

Over the last seven days protests, lawsuits, and self-proclaimed governments have stopped journalists from doing their jobs in countries covered by Index on Censorship’s project Mapping Media Freedom.

Project Manager Hannah Machlin explains why incidents in Russia and Albania are particularly alarming.

“It’s appalling that around 1500 individuals were arrested — including journalists — at the anti-corruption rallies across Russia on Monday,” Machlin said.

Despite showing their press credentials, five journalists were detained including Index’s Mapping Media Freedom correspondent, Andrey Kalikh.

Machlin said, “Our previous reports and our monitoring of wave of anti-corruption rallies indicate that the trend of arresting journalists for doing their job will not abate.”

Machlin said the situation in Albania is also worrying because “a judge, who is in a position of influence, is now attempting to silence journalists who were investigating criminal investigations into him and his family.” She explained, “investigative reporters are consistently targeted when uncovering corruption of state officials and we must call on government institutions to allow journalists to freely report.”

Russia: Five journalists detained including one Mapping Media Freedom correspondent  

12 June, 2017 – An anti-corruption rallies proved to be a dangerous place for journalists on 12 June. The rallies were called by opposition figure Alexei Nalvalny in a long-term attempt to overthrow Vladimir Putin.

At a rally in Moscow, reporter Ignacio Ortega for a Spanish news agency, EFE, in Moscow was arrested while reporting on the event. After identifying himself with his press card at the station, he was released.

Photographer David Frenkel, contributor to Kommersant and Mediazona, and Ksenia Morozova, a journalist for a local website, were both detained despite showing their press cards while covering the anti-corruption rally in St. Petersburg. Frenkel was soon released but Morozova was held overnight before a trial for “public order disturbance.”

Reporter Andrey Poznaykov of Echo of Moscow radio station went to a café for a break where he was detained by policemen even after showing his press card. In his blog, he said he was detained for covering the anti-corruption rally in Moscow. Poznaykov was released shortly after being taken to a police van.

Mapping Media Freedom correspondent, Andrey Kaikh, was detained at an anti-corruption rally in St. Petersburg. From a police bus he wrote he was amongst 40 others at a peaceful demonstration. So far, about 300 protesters have been detained in St. Petersburg. Kaikh was fined 150 Euros and released him at the end of the day on 13 June.

Albania: Four journalists and two media outlets sued by judge for reporting

9 June, 2017 – A court of appeals judge in Tirana sued four journalists and two media outlets for their coverage of his criminal investigations and his family’s declared assets. Judge Gjin Gjoni says the reporting causing reputational damage and pain.

The charges were filed against Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) along with their journalist Besar Likmeta and Aleksandra Bogdani and Shqiptarja newspaper, along with their journalists Adriatic Doci and Elton Qyno.

The judge and his wife are asking for 7 million Lek (54, 000 EUR) in compensation from Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN in Tirana and two of their journalists; They are asking for 4 million Lek (30,000 EUR) from Shqiptarja newspaper and two from their journalists.

BIRN Albania, Adriatik Doci and the Union of Albanian Journalists have all spoken out about the lawsuit.

Ukraine: Journalist disappears in self-proclaimed DPR territory

2 June, 2017 – Ukrainian blogger and writer Stanyslav Aseev disappeared in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. Aseev was reportedly detained by militants of the self-proclaimed DPR.

Aseev uses the alias Stanislav Vasin and contributes to a number of news outlets including Radio Liberty Donbas Realities project, Ukrayinska Pravda, Ukrainian week, Dzerkalo Tyzhnya. He also runs a prominent blog via Facebook.

Radio Liberty Donbass realities project editor-in-chief Tetyana Jakubowicz said their contact with Aseev had been lost on 2 June. That day Aseev’s latest report from territories held by separatists for Radio Liberty.

The journalist’s mother said his flat was broken into and noticed several of his belongings were missing including his laptop.

Fiona Frazer, the Head of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, said that the mission was searching for Aseev, Radio Liberty reported.

“We are trying to understand exactly what was happening to him. We are still trying to gain access there to understand where he is “, Frazer said. She added that, as in other cases, “when militants detain people, responsibility for this is placed on those who control the territory”.

France: Labour minister files complaint over Libération article

9 June, 2017 – New French labour minister Muriel Pénicaud filed a complaint against an unknown person for theft, breach of professional confidentiality and possession of confidential information following the publication of an article in the Libération newspaper about the government’s labour reform projects, Libération reported.

“They were mad with anger,” a source at the Labour Ministry told Libération, about the reaction to the story. “They reacted with such violence that they terrorised all of the affected department.”


Mapping Media Freedom

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