IPI and media freedom partners write to Albania’s Data and Information Commissioner
The IPI and other media freedom and journalist organizations wrote today to Besnik Dervishi, Commissioner for Right to Access to Information and Personal Data Protection in Albania, asking for thorough investigations into recent cases of suspicious data breaches involving journalists writing about a former prosecutor.
Dear Mr. Besnik Dervishi, Commissioner for the right of access to information and the protection of personal data,
The undersigned media freedom organizations and journalists write to us to express our grave concern over the recent breaches of private data and intimidation of at least two journalists in Albania related to their reporting on the highly publicized verification process of the head of the Tirana prosecutor’s office, now dismissed. , Elizabeth Imeraj.
Our organizations are urging your office to carry out a prompt and thorough investigation into the personal data breach – which was then used to scare and pressure one of the journalists – and for those involved to answer questions about their role in what appears to be a coordinated intimidation of the press.
In late March and early April 2022, Albanian journalist Isa Myzyraj of Ora News was intimidated by several people who asked her to stop commenting and reporting on the appeal process for the Imeraj’s audit, which was being conducted as part of a judicial reform project in Albania aimed to root out corrupt judges and prosecutors.
The pressure began after Myzyraj posted on social media that some of the online media whose ownership was not transparent had published defamatory articles attacking members of the International Monitoring Operation (IMO) – a body mandated by the Constitution made up of foreign judges and prosecutors who oversaw the verification process – had ties to Imeraj.
One of Myzyraj’s family members was approached by an individual with an agreement for the journalist to stop covering the prosecutor. This was followed by a threatening phone call from another individual who said there would be consequences for him and his family if he continued. As the verification continued, Myzyraj then received a message from another person containing a screenshot of his family’s certificate from the Civil Registry – a document only available to registered notaries in Albania. The messages contained threats against the journalist and were clearly intended to intimidate him.
At the end of April, Edmond Hoxhaj, a journalist with BIRN Albania and Reporter.al who had also covered the verification process, discovered a similar suspicious breach of his personal data on the e-Albania portal. Hoxhaj was able to see that a notary public named Agron Bajri, who is the ex-husband of Elizabeth Imeraj, had generated their family certificate on April 14, 2022, without their permission. Unlike Myzyraj, Hoxhaj has not received any threats regarding his certificate-related reporting.
In the case of Mr. Hoxhaj, there seems to be clear evidence that the notary, Mr. Bajri, accessed their data without the permission of the family. As Commissioner for the right to access to information and the protection of personal data, we urge you to firmly establish the facts of this case. MFRR partners will also write to Agron Bajri asking him to clarify his role in accessing the family certificates of Mr. Myzyraj and Mr. Hoxhaj without their permission. We also welcome the investigation opened by the Tirana Prosecutor’s Office.
More broadly, our organizations suspect that these two cases are linked and part of the same campaign of harassment against IMO members. The pressure and intimidation of journalists reporting on a prosecutor’s vetting process – a matter of manifest public interest – is unacceptable and was clearly aimed at hampering transparency and reporting on the much-needed implementation of reform of Justice. These cases also highlight a broader problem of threats to the safety of journalists investigating the link between state authorities and corruption.
Effective investigations and definitive answers on these two cases are necessary. Our organizations will be following your investigation closely in the coming weeks and look forward to seeing in-depth findings. We will also continue to closely monitor the broader challenges facing media freedom and threats to independent and watchdog journalism in Albania, which in 2022 fell to 103rd place – the last in the Balkans – in the World Ranking of freedom of the press from RSF.
ARTICLE 19 Europe
European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Unlimited Free Press (FPU)
International Press Institute (IPI)
OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Safe Journalists Network
This letter was coordinated by the Rapi on media freedomd Answer (MFRR), a European mechanism that tracks, monitors and responds to press and media freedom violations in EU Member States and candidate countries.