5 November 2002


New evidence of harassment of media, newspaper receives surprise inspections

Incident details



(HRW/IFEX) - The following is a Human Rights Watch press release:

Albania: New Evidence Of Harassment Of Media

Daily Receives Surprise Inspections

(New York, November 5, 2002) - Harassment of the media has spiked in Albania recently, Human Rights Watch said today. The European Union should make press freedom a key part of its association talks with the Albanian government.

Last week, the daily "Koha Jonë" became the target of government pressure and intimidation following publication of articles critical of Prime Minister Fatos Nano. Days after the newspaper published the critical commentaries, at least five different government agencies sent inspectors to check its parent media company's compliance with financial, labor and other regulations. While the inspections may be lawful on their face, their timing, unusual nature and surrounding circumstances raise strong suspicions they are being used to retaliate against the newspaper.

"The Albanian government is stepping up the pressure on local media," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "Financial pressure and other subtle forms of government interference have become commonplace, posing a serious threat to media freedom."

According to the "Koha Jonë" publisher, such inspections usually take place at the end of the financial year, in spring. The inspectors have seized possession of all financial documentation of the "Koha" media group - which includes two dailies, one television station, and one radio station - making it difficult for the group to conduct everyday transactions.

In an extensive report published in June, Human Rights Watch drew attention to the widespread abuse of state advertising and other kinds of financial leverage from Albanian officials to suppress critical reporting. International organizations such as the European Union, Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe should monitor closely all kinds of media freedom violations by the Albanian authorities, Human Rights Watch said.

"At a time when the European Union has opened negotiations for a Stabilization and Association agreement with Albania, its government should be told that such practices are unacceptable in a democracy," Andersen said. "Ending all improper government interference with media freedoms should be a condition for progress in the negotiations."

Government officials have a right to take legal action against media outlets that engage in malicious defamation. The Human Rights Watch report found, however, that Albanian defamation laws and judicial practice fail to meet international standards of free speech protection. Despite repeated pledges to reform criminal and civil defamation laws, the Albanian authorities have so far failed to do so.


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