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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Albania

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Albania, February 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c564f20.html [accessed 18 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

While Albania's entrance to the Council of Europe in June 1995 promised improved press freedom in the country, last May's parliamentary elections sparked a renewed crackdown on the opposition press, as the ruling party tried to limit critical coverage of the government. During the months leading to the elections, officials in President Sali Berisha's ruling Democratic Party impounded delivery trucks servicing Koha Jone, a leading opposition newspaper, and made sweeping arrests of Koha Jone's staff for tenuous connections with a bombing in Tirana. After the bombing, authorities arrested and detained another journalist, who had written for the daily Populli Po, on the suspicion that an article she had written in November 1995 was related to the incident.

Radio and television news remains entirely state controlled, providing only one-sided, pro-government coverage. On election day, May 26, the Albanian government cut regular programming by a German news agency and continued to bar the broadcast for one week. Following the elections, which opposition parties and Western observers said had been manipulated, authorities again targeted print journalists, this time harassing and attacking them while they covered opposition rallies protesting the elections. Meanwhile, the Albanian government continued heavy monitoring of all radio and television broadcasts, often censoring programs from Western news agencies.

Most nongovernmental newspapers were directly affiliated with opposition parties. Several editors and writers from opposition newspapers ran for office in the May elections and in the Oct. 20 runoffs, in which the ruling Democratic Party claimed a landslide victory.

January 26
Koha Jone, HARASSED

Police impounded six delivery vans of the independent newspaper Koha Jone, claiming that they were defective or lacked proper registration documents. On March 3, the newspaper's publisher and editor announced that Koha Jone would have to permanently discontinue two of its smaller publications, AKS and Sport Ekspres, due to financial constraints caused by the impoundment of three additional delivery vans.

January 31
Altin Hazizaj, Koha Jone, IMPRISONED

Hazizaj, a reporter with Albania's largest independent daily, Koha Jone, was arrested for allegedly assaulting two police officers while trying to enter a building. Hazizaj was covering a police attempt to evict former political prisoners who were living as squatters in an unfinished building in Tirana. At the scene of the eviction, police also confiscated the film and camera of a Koha Jone photographer, Genc Shkullaku. On Feb. 2, after CPJ and other international organizations protested his detention, Hazizaj was released by court order. As the investigation against him continues, Hazizaj is required to report to authorities twice a week.

February 26
Koha Jone's staff, HARASSED

Shortly after an explosion that killed four and wounded 27 in the center of the Albanian capital, Tirana, police raided the offices of the independent daily Koha Jone and arrested all 33 staffers present. No arrest warrants were shown. The newspaper's staff, including publisher Nikoll Lesi, were taken to Tirana Police Station No. 2 and questioned individually about the bombing. Police also raided Lesi's apartment and confiscated a hunting rifle and a safe box containing tapes from a 1994 trial in which two journalists from Koha Jone were convicted of slander and revealing state secrets. Lesi was then charged with illegal arms possession. CPJ sent a letter to President Sali Berisha expressing grave concern about the continued harassment of Albania's independent press and urged him to ensure that members of the independent media are not unfairly targeted during times of crisis.

February 26
Ylli Polovina, Free-lancer, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Polovina, a well-known free-lance journalist, was detained by Albanian authorities shortly after an explosion that killed four and injured 27 in the center of Tirana, the Albanian capital. The arrest occurred after a news broadcast on Albanian State Television suggested a link between the day's bombing and a Nov. 29 article in Populli Po by Polovina titled "The Car Bomb in Skopje Could be 'Repeated' in Tirana." The article discussed a car bombing in Skopje, Macedonia, and suggested that a figurative "explosion" of corruption may occur in Tirana. On March 5, CPJ sent a letter to President Sali Berisha urging him to clarify the charges against Polovina, who remained in detention, and ensure that he be provided a speedy and fair trial with proper legal representation. On March 12, an Albanian court convicted him of inciting terrorism. Polovina was sentenced to pay a fine of 30, 000 lek (US$300) and was then released.

March 14
Aleksander Frangaj, Koha Jone, LEGAL ACTION

Frangaj, editor in chief of the independent daily Koha Jone, was convicted on charges of publishing false information and fined US$1, 000. The charges were brought by a former police chief from Gjirokastra who claimed that an article in Koha Jone contained false allegations about him, specifically that he was involved in corruption and was wanted by the authorities. Frangaj was convicted under Albania's widely criticized 1993 Press Law. A few days later, President Sali Berisha annulled the fine. The president offered no explanation for his move, but press reports speculated that it was a gesture by Berisha to ease tensions between the government and Koha Jone, which had been harassed frequently by authorities.

May 26
Deutsche Welle, CENSORED

The daily, 30-minute, Albanian-language broadcast by the German news agency Deutsche Welle was cut from Radio Tirana's programming on the evening of general elections in Albania and remained off the air for a week. Radio Tirana, a state-run station that broadcasts throughout Albania, offered no explanation for cutting the program and played music in its place. The station put the program back on the air only after reporters from Deutsche Welle lodged protests with the Radio Tirana director. But sources at the German news agency report that nearly all of the stories filed by their Tirana correspondents are censored, as well as those stories filed from Germany that are critical of the Albanian government.

May 28
Bardhok Lala, Dita Information Service, ATTACKED

Lala, a reporter for the independent Dita Information Service, was beaten by police during a rally in Tirana's Skanderberg Square, where opposition supporters were protesting alleged ballot manipulation in the May 26 parliamentary elections. President Sali Berisha's Democratic Party won an overwhelming majority of votes in the elections. Lala said he was watching the rally when he was picked up by police and taken to a restaurant, where he was beaten and kicked. He was moved to a police station, dumped into a car with no license plates, beaten again, and threatened with a gun to his face. The police took Lala to a lake south of Tirana, stripped him, and beat him with batons and a revolver. They demanded to know the names of secret police officials who leaked information to newspapers, and fired a gun several times near his head. Lala, whose attackers eventually left him by the lake, injured, sought help in a nearby village. International organizations reported that other journalists, foreign and Albanian, and protesters were also beaten at the rally. CPJ urged Albanian authorities to investigate the attack on Lala and hold the police officers involved accountable.

May 28
Gianfranco Stara, Associated Press Television (APTV), ATTACKED
Spiro Ilo, APTV, ATTACKED, HARASSED
Eduardo del Campo, El Mundo, ATTACKED

Stara and Ilo, both journalists with APTV, and del Campo, a reporter for Spain's El Mundo, were beaten by police while observing a political rally in Skanderberg Square in the center of the capital, Tirana. Police also smashed Ilo's video camera and destroyed his film. CPJ condemned the attack and urged the authorities to order an investigation into the police beatings.

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