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05.06.2018

Albania: journalists win test case against SLAPP 

by Emil Weber

Two award-winning Albanian journalists have won a long-running defamation case that sets an important precedent for press freedom.

Birn Reporter.al The Court was clearer and firmer than it had ever been before on the status of the right to access information as part of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention, it stopped short of acknowledging access to information as a fully-fledged right under the provision.

Besar Likmeta and Aleksandra Bogdani defended their reports about the wealth statements and the termination of an official investigation against a judge, Gjoni Gjin and his wife Elona Çaushi, who is a businesswomen. The stories appeared in reporter.al, the Albanian language online publication of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

Gjoni Gjin is a Court of Appeal judge in Tirana and a member of the Council of Justice. He and his wife were claiming damages of 52,000 euros. But they did not appear in court and only rarely sent their lawyer to the long-running hearing which started in July 2017. Judge Astrit Faqolli dismissed the defamation case on 30 May 2018.

’Trying to make a mockery of the court!’

“After repeated absences in court sessions of the plaintiff’s lawyer [the plaintiffs themselves were never present] - justified with illnesses and other reasons, Judge Astrit Faqolli dismissed the case, ruling that ‘the plaintiffs were trying to make a mockery of the court’, and their lack of presence was not justified”, Mr. Likmeta said.

“Legal cases take their toll and put pressure on a journalist’s already busy professional life”, Mr. Likmeta said, adding that he expects the plaintiffs to appeal the decision again. 

“But we will not be silenced by bullies. We believe that with all evidence that was presented, the articles published by Reporter.al were based on solid facts, documented thoroughly through a long paper trail and respected the highest standards of journalism”.

Mr Likmeta went on: “To us it was clear from the beginning that this was a SLAPP lawsuit that sought to censor and intimidate and came hard on the heels of legal threats made by the plaintiffs before publication”.  

SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – in other words, a court case that has the aim of preventing publication or discussion of matters in the public interest.

Earlier this year several members of the European Parliament called on the European Commission (EC) to initiate legislation to protect investigative journalism in Europe against increasing SLAPP cases.

ECPMF welcomes the ruling

Ms. Flutura Kusari, legal advisor at the ECPMF, said the organisation welcomes the ruling of Tirana District Court. The ECPMF supported the case from its Legal Assistance Service. 

“The articles published by reporter.al dealt with topics of public interest and they were based on credible facts. It was clear from the beginning that Mr. Gjin Gjoni and his wife aimed to intimidate and discourage reporter.al from further reporting about them by engaging them in costly judicial processes”, Kusari said. “Currently judges in many jurisdictions are challenged with SLAPP lawsuits against journalists and this case is an important, positive judicial precedent in protecting investigative journalism from SLAPP lawsuits. It should be used as an example by other judges in Albania and internationally”.

The journalists involved in the case have both won international prizes for their work. In 2009 Likmeta received the CEI/SEEMO Award for Outstanding Merits in Investigative Journalism and in 2010 he was runner up to the Global Shining Light Award, presented at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva. 

Aleskandra Bogdani received the CEI/SEEMO Award for Outstanding Merits in November 2015.

 





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