picture alliance / Zoonar | Valerio Rosati
Albania: Private data breaches and intimidation of journalists must be investigated

ECPMF

09 May 2022

No Comments

The partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), together with Safe Journalists Network and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have written to Mr. Besnik Dervishi, Commissioner for the Right to Access to Information and Personal Data Protection of Albania, calling for a swift and thorough investigation into a recent private data breach and intimidation of at least two journalists in Albania.

09/05/2022

 

Sent electronically

 

Dear Mr. Besnik Dervishi, Commissioner for the Right to Access to Information and Personal Data Protection,

 

The undersigned media freedom and journalists’ organisations are writing to express our serious concern over the recent private data breaches and intimidation of at least two journalists in Albania linked to their reporting on the high-profile vetting process of the now dismissed Head of Tirana Prosecution Office, Elizabeta Imeraj.

 

Our organisations urge your office to conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the breach of personal data – which was then used to frighten and pressure one of the journalists – and for those involved to answer questions about their role in what appears to be coordinated intimidation of the press.

 

In late March and early April 2022, Albanian journalist Isa Myzyraj of Ora News faced intimidation from multiple individuals who demanded he stop commenting and reporting on the appeals process for the vetting of Imeraj, which was being carried out as part of a judicial reform project in Albania aimed at rooting out corrupt judges and prosecutors.

 

The pressure started after Myzyraj posted on social media that some of the online media with non-transparent ownership that had been publishing smear pieces attacking members of the International Monitoring Operation (IMO) – a constitutionally mandated body made up foreign judges and prosecutors which was supervising the vetting process – had links to Imeraj.

 

One of Myzyraj’s family members was approached by an individual with a deal for the journalist to stop covering the prosecutor. This was followed by a threatening phone call by another individual who said there would be consequences for him and his family if he continued. As the vetting continued, Myzyraj was then sent a message by another individual which contained a screenshot of the certificate of his family from the Civil Registry – a document only available to registered notaries in Albania. The messages contained threats against the journalist and were clearly aimed at intimidating him.

 

In late April, Edmond Hoxhaj, a journalist at the BIRN Network Albania and Reporter.al who had also been covering the vetting process, discovered a similar suspicious breach of his personal data on the e-Albania portal. Hoxhaj could see that a notary named Agron Bajri, who is the former husband of Elizabeta Imeraj, had generated their family certificate on April 14, 2022, without their authorisation. Unlike Myzyraj, Hoxhaj did not receive threats about his reporting linked to the certificate.

 

In the case of Mr. Hoxhaj, there appears to be clear evidence that the notary, Mr. Bajri, accessed their data without the family’s permission. As Commissioner for the Right to Access to Information and Personal Data Protection, we urge you to firmly establish the facts about this case. The MFRR partners will also write to Agron Bajri with a request to clarify his role in accessing the family certificates of both Mr. Myzyraj and Mr. Hoxhaj without their authorisation. We also welcome the investigation opened by the Tirana Prosecutor’s Office.

 

At the wider level, our organisations suspect these two cases are linked and are part of the same campaign of harassment against members of the IMO. Pressure and intimidation of journalists reporting on the vetting process of a prosecutor – a clear matter of public interest – are unacceptable and were clearly aimed at frustrating transparency and reporting the much-needed implementation of justice reform. These cases also point to a wider issue of threats to the safety of journalists who investigate the nexus between state authorities and corruption.

 

Effective investigations and definitive answers on these two cases are needed. Our organisations will continue to follow your investigation closely in the coming weeks and look forward to seeing thorough findings. We will also continue to closely monitor the wider challenges facing media freedom and threats to independent, watchdog journalism in Albania, which plummeted in 2022 to 103rd rank – the last in the Balkans – in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.

Signed:

ARTICLE 19 Europe

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Safe Journalists Network

This statement was coordinate by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. This project provides legal and practical support, public advocacy and information to protect journalists and media workers. The MFRR is organised by a consortium led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) including ARTICLE 19 Europe, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), International Press Institute (IPI) and CCI/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT). The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

Read news by categories:

Related news

Statement

Cyprus: Call for thorough investigations into surveillance of Makarios Drousiotis

We are highly concerned about the alleged surveillance of journalist Makarios Drousiotis, and the lack of prompt, adequate or thorough investigation of the matter.

READ MORE
Feature

Greece: International press freedom mission to Athens

Between 25 and 27 September 2023, eight international press freedom and freedom of expression organisations will conduct a joint advocacy and fact-finding mission to Athens.

READ MORE
Statement

Public Letter on the role of the European Board for Media Services

We call on the European Parliament to strengthen the EMFA’s state advertising provisions and by doing so, ensure that media freedom can flourish in the European Union.

READ MORE
Press release

Polish media grapple with unprecedented challenges and uncertain future as the country faces electoral crossroads

At the conclusion of their press freedom mission to Warsaw from 11-13 September, partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) declared that the media and journalists in Poland are facing unprecedented challenges including legal threats, financial precarity, political pressure, regulatory capture and growing polarisation.

READ MORE
Statement

Government of Malta must publish Committee of Experts on Media report

We call on the government of Malta to publish without further delay the report by the Committee of Experts on Media, the body tasked with advising the Government on implementing the recommendations of the Public Inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

READ MORE
Statement

Ukraine: Call for an End to Russian War Crimes Against Journalists in Ukraine

We, the undersigned journalists, press freedom organizations, and unions, write this statement to denounce the war crimes committed by the Russian Federation against journalists in Ukraine and to call for immediate action to hold the perpetrators accountable.

READ MORE