BIRN Albania has condemned an apparent initiative to restore defamation as a crime in Albania.
BIRN office in Albania had criticised an apparent initiative to restore defamation as a criminal offence in Albania and has called on the government to immediately distance itself from any such move.
On Wednesday, media reports said the government was intending to restore defamation as a criminal offence in the law code.
News of the apparent proposal coming from the Parliamentary Commission on Laws caused outrage among journalists.
On Thursday Prime Minister Edi Rama used Facebook to try and defuse the situation, saying the changes proposed in the law code had nothing to with re-criminalisation of libel. He called the outcry a “big misunderstanding.”
Former Prime Minister Sali Berisha abolished the section of the criminal code that made defamation a crime in 2012.
Responding to the reports, BIRN Albania that it was clear the ruling majority in Albania had little tolerance of independent journalism and critical voices.
It said the proposal aimed to count as a crime all forms of expression that target state leaders.
“The proposal comes in that part of the criminal code that describes ‘crimes against the state.’ This implies that if citizens call a minister a thief it can be considered defamation and a crime against the state, punishable by up to three years of prison. But when an official calls a citizen a thief, this is not considered a defamation and nobody is charged,” BIRN noted.
BIRN Albania recalled that the Prime Minister was personally beaten up in 1996 for the sake of free speech, and not to long ago went to Paris to show solidarity with victims of the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Classifying defamation against high officials, as a “crime against the state” is a measure that would normally be taken in autocratic countries such Russia, Turkey, Egypt or Azerbaijan, BIRN said.
“We think the current legislation (on the media) is sufficient. Albanians are suffering from the lack of freedom, not its abundance,” BIRN stated.