By Emil Weber – 03.01.2018
Every month, Albanian investigative journalists Mr. Besar Likmeta and Ms. Aleksandra Bogdani appear in court in a defamation case initiated by a powerful judge and his wife.
The Republic of Albania has been an official candidate for accession to the European Union since June 2014
“Like everything we do as journalists we take the legal process seriously and respect the institution, despite the fact that this case completely lacks merit, in our opinion,”, Mr. Besar Likmeta told The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) recently. “The wheels of justice might grind slow, but we hope that at least, they will grind fine in the end”.
The court proceedings began on July 2017 after Mr. Gjin Gjoni, a judge at the Court of Appeal in Tirana and a member of the High Council of Justice, and his wife Ms. Elona Çaushi, who is a businesswoman, lodged a defamation application for damages of honour and personality, seeking about 52,000 Euros in compensation.
The journalists work for reporter.al, a Balkan Investigative Report Network’s (BIRN) platform in Albanian language, which is a rare investigative media in Albania The application challenges three articles written by them. The first article reported on the termination of an official investigation against the judge for hiding wealth and falsifying documents, the second one dealt with the reopening of the dossier against the judge, and the third article presented the richest judges in Albania based on their official wealth statements – including Gjin Gjoni.
Ms. Flutura Kusari, legal advisor at the ECPMF, wrote in July that Gjoni’s application had to be seen as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP).
“The articles published by reporter.al deal with topics of public interest. They are based on credible facts and the investigation was based on the ethical obligations of journalists”, Ms. Kusari said. “But in a SLAPP lawsuit, the plaintiff does not aim to win a case, rather than to intimidate and discourage reporters from further reporting by placing them in long and costly judicial processes”.
Mr. Besar Likmeta, BIRN’s editor for Albania, says the judge schedules sessions every 30-days, the maximum limit allowed by the law.
“The plaintiffs have been represented in court by their lawyer and have not attended any session, while I and Alexandra have been present during all the hearings”, Mr. Likmeta told ECPMF. “Out of six sessions, two have been postponed due to the absence of the lawyer of the plaintiffs, one because he had to attend a criminal case and in the last session he filed in a sick leave. Even the court sessions that are held, last a maximum of 30 minutes, so the case is proceeding quite slowly”.
“Every time we have a court session, we have to have a prior meeting with our lawyers, discuss legal tactics and evidence to be submitted, which means that two days every month we have to dedicate to the process”, Likmeta says. Mr. Likmeta and Ms. Bogdani have been awarded the prestigious CEI SEEMO Award for Outstanding Merits in Investigative Journalism.
The next court session against them has been scheduled for 22 January 2018. The ECPMF has supported the journalists’ legal defence with 1,000 Euros. The ECPMF has also recently supported another prominent investigative journalism case in Albania that faced legal action.
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