Berlin, May 5, 2021 – Albanian authorities should immediately drop their investigation into Lapsi.al and ensure that all outlets can protect their confidential sources, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On April 16, the Special Court Against Corruption and Organized Crime in the capital, Tirana, ordered the independent news website Lapsi.al to hand over a voter database that was the subject of its recent reporting, and interrogated Andi Bushati, the outlet’s publisher, according to Dorian Matlija, a lawyer representing Lapsi.al who communicated with CPJ via email, and news reports.
On April 18, the court approved a request from the Special Prosecution Against Corruption and Organized Crime to seize all of the outlet’s electronic devices, Matlija said.
Matlija told CPJ that the outlet appealed the court orders, and had not turned over any equipment or information as of today. An appeal hearing is scheduled for tomorrow, he said.
“It is of vital importance for journalists to be able to protect their confidential sources, and Albanian authorities should respect this pillar of a free press” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Albanian prosecutors’ questioning of publisher Andi Bushati and attempts to force Lapsi.al to turn over all of its electronic devices puts the outlet under undue pressure and could have a chilling effect on investigative reporting.”
On April 11, Lapsi.al published an article alleging that the governing Socialist Party possessed a database containing the personal information of about 910,000 voters, which it said contained data that may have been passed illegally to the party from members of the government. The article stated that Lapsi.al had obtained a copy of the database.
On April 16, officers with the Special Prosecution Against Corruption and Organized Crime interrogated Bushati, who told them that his outlet had acquired the database via WhatsApp from a source whom he refused to name, citing journalistic confidentiality, Matlija said.
Matlija told CPJ that no charges have been filed against Bushati or anyone at the outlet as of today, and that the prosecutor’s office has not taken any further action since its April 18 request to confiscate the website’s equipment; the request has been suspended pending the appeal.
Prime Minister Edi Rama denied any wrongdoing by the Socialist Party, saying the database did not belong to the party, and Arben Kraja, chair of the Special Prosecution Against Corruption and Organized Crime, denied that there was any political motive to the investigation, reports said.
On April 25, the Socialist Party narrowly won parliamentary elections in the country, according to reports.
CPJ emailed the prime minister’s office and the Special Prosecution Against Corruption and Organized Crime for comment, but did not immediately receive any replies.