New Albanian Anti-Corruption Law Worries Media

Draft legislation to protect special prosecutors from outside influence during investigations has created fears of censorship, but officials have promised to address journalists’ concerns.

640x480 Albanian Parliament celebrating
The Albanian parliament after voting through the judicial reform.

Journalists’ associations in Albania have expressed concerns that the draft law that will complete the country’s long-awaited judicial reform might limit their right to free speech.

The provision in the draft law that worries them is intended to protect the independence of special prosecutors while they are investigating corruption cases.

“Any inappropriate influence on the work of the special prosecutors or their actions on specific issues through the public authorities or the media, or any other form of pressure that impacts on the independence of prosecutors, is prohibited and punished by the law,” paragraph three of article 13 of the draft legislation says.

Four media rights associations criticised the wording of the draft, arguing that it could impose censorship on journalists.

“The associations of journalists consider this project not to be part of a reform that aims to fight crime and corruption, but an extraordinary article that seeks to shut free media’s mouth and install censorship in the country,” a joint statement from the four organisations said.

But the head of the ad hoc parliamentary commission on judicial reform, Socialist MP Fatmir Xhafaj, told BIRN that the article in the draft law has nothing to do with censorship.

Xhafaj called the debate over the article “a storm in a tea cup”, but also confirmed that the ruling majority will reformulate the wording in order to eradicate any doubts over the right to free speech.

“The article is based on the principle of impartiality in order for the prosecutors to do their job without being influenced by other authorities,” he said.

“We really consider the media a close ally in the fight against corruption and organised crime,” he added.

On Wednesday, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, echoed the journalists’ concerns and even accused Prime Minister Edi Rama of personally designing the article to censor criticism.

“This measure has nothing to do with the judicial reform,” Basha said in a statement, vowing that his party would block it.

In July, Albania passed crucial constitutional changes that will open the way for the judicial reform, which is considered one of the most important undertaken by the country in the past 25 years.

Balkan Insight

19 August, 2016