ALBANIA: SEEMO appalled by recent developments in Albania

ALBANIA, 31/01/2011

The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from South and East Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is appalled by the large number of reporters and journalists allegedly attacked and even shot on 21 January 2011, by members of the Albanian National Guard. 

According to information received by SEEMO, the violence that occurred in the streets of Tirana on 21 January 2011 did not spare journalists and reporters. The reports of numerous brutal attacks on journalists who were doing their job were entirely disregarded by the National Guard.

Ened Janina, reporter for the newspaper Shekulli, was allegedly beaten in the middle of the street. He told police he was a journalist and provided evidence by showing identification. Janina said he asked guardsmen to stop beating him, but, Janina said he was told, "I do not give a damn that you are a journalist." 

Commenting on the incident, SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic said: "This incident is indeed very shocking. No person working for the National Guard should behave in such an aggressive manner toward a journalist who was only doing his work, and who even identified himself accordingly." 

Furthermore, photographer Feliks Bilani allegedly had stones thrown towards his head, reporter Elton Dono's jaw was broken when he was hit on the head allegedly by a member of the National Guard, and a reporter from Ora News was wounded during the demonstration.

In his testimony, which has also been given to prosecutors, Fatos Mahmutaj, working for ABC News, gives a detailed account of how an officer from the National Guard, standing in the courtyard of the prime minister's office, opened fire, wounding him and killing two protesters. 

"I saw the National Guard officer when he stood up because before he was covered with his shield. He removed the shield, took aim and shot," said Mahmutaj, who was reporting live for his TV station at the time of the incident. 

"I saw the fire in his gun barrel, I felt the impact of the bullet in my hand, and also heard a crack only 10 centimetres from my right ear, which was the skull of the killed protester that was cracking," Mahmutaj added. 

"We compliment the reporters, journalists and photographers who were brave enough to go to the streets during that troubled time and for still trying to fulfil their duties in such hazardous circumstances," said Vujovic. "Such attacks are unacceptable, and it is particularly worrying if they are coming from the National Guard who is supposed to function as a safeguard of rules and order within a society."

SEEMO urges Albanian authorities to make every attempt to protect journalists as they report on conflict and other sensitive issues. SEEMO also asks the high authorities in Albania to deal with the abuse of journalists and to take legal steps against those responsible for attacks on journalists. 

Added Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General: "If media representatives are too frightened to go out on the streets and report during such an event, the general public will be left uninformed and ignorant. That is unacceptable for a country that is considered democratic." 

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