In January 2012, Albania’s prime minister, Sali Berisha, declared that his administration would decriminalise slander, and on February 17 and March 1, 2012, two sets of reforms, both to the civil and penal code, were voted on in the parliament. However, in February 2012, the Director for Public Relations at the Council of Ministers, Gjovalin Prenga, filed criminal charges over alleged slander in Tirana’s District Court, seeking a two-year prison sentence for Lindita Cela, a journalist for the daily newspaper Shekulli.
On October 7, 2011, Cela reported on a conflict within the Agency for the Legalization, Urbanization and Integration of Informal Areas, ALUIZNI. The former head of ALUIZNI had accused his deputy of having had ties to the former Communist security apparatus. After firing the deputy, the director distributed a dossier to the local media that contained the names of several people who allegedly collaborated with the secret services. Prenga’s was on that list. Cela reported on how state officials used the dossiers for infighting and quoted parts ofthem.
The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), welcomed the amendments to the defamation law but expresses concern at the renewed use of criminal charges against journalists. In fact, as stated in an article published by Balkan Insight: “The criminal charges against Cela mark the first time that a reporter is being tried for a criminal offence since the government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha came to power in 2005.”
Two months earlier, Berisha said: “I express my pleasure that last year there was no legal process by the administration against the media and I assure you there will be none for as long as this government is in power,” according to information published on the AlbanianCouncil of Ministers website (Jan. 13, 2012). One month later the Director for Public Relations at the Council of Ministers filed criminal charges against Cela.
Albania’s Union of Journalists (AUJ) supports Cela. On March 27, 2012, the AUJ condemned the lawsuit as an attack by state officials on journalists who publish critical stories based on documents and facts and expressed concern about the growing number of slander cases against journalists in general. “The explosion of these cases shows the existence of a threatening climate toward journalists and the free media,” the statement added.
SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic said: “I applauded the Albanian authorities when they took the right steps towards decriminalisation of defamation and slander. Yet, I am concerned that the very same month that these amendments were passed in the Parliament, criminal charges were filed against a journalist. I call on Albania’s authorities to keep their promises and implement the laws they have passed. I would also like to add that the increase of law suits lead to self-censorship and does not contribute to free media and democracy.”