Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government usually respected these rights, although defamation is a criminal offense. There were reports that the government, businesses, and criminal groups sought to influence media in inappropriate ways.
Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. There were efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on media, including by threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption.
Business owners freely used their media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. There were credible reports of senior media representatives using media outlets to blackmail businesses by threatening unfavorable media coverage. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Economic insecurity due to a lack of enforceable labor contracts reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union (AJU) continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at many media outlets, in some cases up to 10 months. According to the journalist union, the pandemic worsened these delays. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income, leading to questions regarding the integrity of their reporting.
NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for some of the estimated 900-plus news portals in the country, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial, political, and criminal interests. The dramatic growth in online media outlets provided a diversity of views as well as opportunities for corruption.
In July parliament voted to elect a new chairperson of the Audiovisual Media Authority, an independent body that regulates broadcast media. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the EU had urged parliament to postpone the July vote until September to allow for the seating of the new parliament and the return of opposition parties that had boycotted parliament since February 2019. There were concerns regarding the independence of the chairwoman elected in July, as she had previously served as a spokeswoman for the Socialist Party before being appointed head of the state-owned Albanian Telegraphic Agency.
Violence and Harassment: Political and business interests reportedly subjected journalists to pressure. Through November, the AJU reported 11 cases of violence and intimidation against members of the media. For example, in April police detained Fax News reporter Preng Gjikola for several hours without explanation following a protest in Thirre, Mirdita. In July police participating in an ongoing operation briefly detained News 24 journalist Ergys Gjencaj, who was filming the operation.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment. The AJU cited censorship and self-censorship as leading problems for journalists. A survey of 800 media professionals published in 2019 found that 62 percent of respondents thought there was interference from individuals or politics, 60 percent thought there was interference from media owners, 39 percent thought there was self-censorship, and 31 percent thought there was corruption in the media. Approximately 78 percent of media professionals thought there were journalists who engaged in corrupt practices to misreport stories.
In July, following criticism by reporters, media outlets, and journalists’ associations, parliament reversed its earlier decision to limit physical access of reporters to Assembly premises and meetings of its permanent committees.
Prior to the April parliamentary elections, media outlets and journalists’ associations complained regarding a lack of independent media access to campaign events held by political parties, which preferred to provide their own party-edited content to media outlets.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines were excessive and, combined with the entry of a criminal conviction into the defendant’s record, undermined freedom of expression. The AJU expressed concern that as of September, there were more than 20 lawsuits against journalists, mainly for defamation.
In 2019 the Assembly passed legislation, the so-called antidefamation package, which amended existing media laws to address defamation. NGOs and some international organizations criticized the amendments, sparking public debate, and the president returned the law to parliament. In June 2020 the Venice Commission found the law problematic and advised against its adoption as drafted. The legislation remained pending.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: To receive government services, citizens changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many individuals could not provide documentation and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means or necessary information to register.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
In August the government, in coordination with private organizations, began accepting Afghan evacuees seeking protection following the change of the Afghanistan government. Over 2,400 Afghans were subsequently granted temporary protection status by the Albanian government.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
In February a new law on asylum was adopted (Asylum Law no. 10/121) that extended the deadlines for granting or denying asylum requests from 51 days to six months from the date of application, with potential for three-month extensions up to 21 months, under certain circumstances.
As of August 31, five persons had applied for asylum with the Directorate for Asylum, Foreigners, and Citizenship. UNHCR supported the appeals of four rejected asylum applicants.
Police allowed UNHCR, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the NGO Caritas to monitor the access of arrivals to national procedures and return of persons to countries from which they arrived. Monitors reported prescreening procedures were often curtailed, raising concerns about access to asylum and identification of potential victims of trafficking. The ombudsman and Caritas were also allowed to monitor the detention of migrants.
UNHCR reported some cases of border police returning migrants to Greece despite indicating an intention to seek asylum. Authorities detained 6,521 irregular migrants who entered the country between January and August, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; most of those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation.
Migrants who claimed asylum were housed at the Babrru National Reception Center for Asylum Seekers. Many of the irregular migrants placed in Babrru were later apprehended again attempting to cross into Montenegro and Kosovo rather than remaining in the country to pursue asylum requests. Karrec and Babrru centers faced funding constraints. In late 2020 UNHCR supported rehabilitation of a portion of Babrru capable of accommodating 30 asylum seekers and unaccompanied and separated children. In August the Ministry of Interior redistributed funds in the state budget, allocating approximately 56,500 euros ($65,000) for refurbishment and increasing reception capacity.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law limits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or being granted refugee status. UNHCR reported that one asylum request had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which included Greece.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs reported concerns regarding the unaccompanied foreign and separated children who faced increased risk of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation due to lack of strong protection system. The NGO Nisma ARSIS supported six cases of unaccompanied children who arrived in the country during the year through September.
NGOs considered the migrant detention facility in Karrec to be unsuitable for children and families. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, sending them instead to the open asylum-seekers facility in Babrru.
Employment: Under the new law on asylum, refugees may seek employment authorization. If no decision has been communicated within nine months, employment authorization is automatically granted.
Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance.
Police reported no stateless persons in the country as of August.
According to UNHCR statistics, approximately 700 persons at risk of statelessness were identified under the agency’s statelessness mandate as of November. Of these, approximately 380 were registered with the National Register of Civil Status. The government does not have data regarding the total number of stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country. The 2021 Law on Foreigners establishes a statelessness determination procedure. UNHCR and its partners provided technical support to the government with the implementation of the law.