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Albania: Defence Minister’s Chief of Cabinet issues legal threat…

Albania: Defence Minister’s Chief of Cabinet issues legal threat against journalist

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), is concerned about legal proceedings initiated by Belioza Çoku, the Chief of Cabinet of the Minister of Defence, against journalist Juljana Ristani, who published a story on undue interference with lists of nominees for educational bursaries in the context of a public competition held by the Ministry of Defence.

Ristani had previously made public for the first time the ranking of the bursary applications. The leading candidate is expected to be awarded the scholarship. However, the leading applicant on this list was ultimately not successful, as the scholarship was awarded to another candidate. There have been no complaints from the Minister of Defence questioning the authenticity of the list published by Ristani. The article that forms the basis of the legal action includes allegations that Çoku called and threatened the family of the leading applicant on the list late at night after they complained to the authorities. Çoku demands damages from Ristani for publishing “inaccurate and misleading data”. In light of the fact that Ristani has clear evidence to prove her factual statements, we consider the public official’s legal threat against the journalists constitutes an attempt to intimidate her and hinder her work.

ECPMF calls on the pursuers to drop their abusive legal actions. The courts must not be abused to stifle critical journalism that strengthens the public’s right to know and enhances democratic accountability.

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UK: Italian journalist continues to litigate for access to…

UK: Italian journalist continues to litigate for access to Assange information

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) raise concerns about the Metropolitan Police (MPS)’ reliance on vague national security arguments to refuse disclosure to FOI request from Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi.

On 26 January 2021, Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi appeared before the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) in London. The hearing is the latest development in her long-running, multi-jurisdictional litigation effort to defend the right of the press to gain access to the full set of documents held by various authorities related to the Assange and WikiLeaks cases.

The case at hand relates to Maurizi’s investigation of the 2015 handover of all emails and digital data belonging to Kristinn Hrafnsson, then WikiLeaks’ spokesperson; Sarah Harrison, then WikiLeaks’ investigative editor; and Joseph Farrell, then WikiLeaks’ section editor by Google to the US Department of Justice (DOJ). All were based in the UK, and two are UK citizens.

In June 2017, Maurizi requested disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Metropolitan Police (MPS) of any information about the three journalists in correspondence with the DOJ. Initially, the MPS refused to confirm whether it held any information but in 2018 Maurizi successfully challenged this position before the First-Tier Tribunal and in 2019, the MPS confirmed the journalistic status of the three journalists and that it holds such documents. However, the MPS continued to refuse disclosure, partly on unconvincing grounds of safeguarding national security and preventing terrorism. On 27 January 2020, the Information Commissioner upheld the MPS’ decision, after which Maurizi lodged the appeal.

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Increasing threats and violence against journalists in the Netherlands

Increasing threats and violence against journalists in the Netherlands

IPI and EFJ, as part of the MFRR, condemns the violence and threats directed at journalists and media workers covering unrest in cities and towns across The Netherlands in opposition to the state’s COVID-19 response

The International Press Institute (IPI) and European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) expressed serious concern over the recent increase in threats and violence against journalists in the Netherlands. Over a couple of days at the end of January 2021, several journalists and TV crews have been threatened, insulted or physically attacked by groups of rioters as they covered unrest sparked by the Dutch government’s newly imposed COVID-19 curfew restrictions.

These instances of violence and threats are the most visible examples yet of a rising anti-press sentiment within certain segments of Dutch society – a trend particularly jarring in a country which enjoys one the highest levels of press freedom in the world and is known for its defence of independent journalism on the global stage.

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Slovak police urged to probe surveillance of Denník N…

Slovak police urged to probe surveillance of Denník N journalist Monika Tódová

The International Press Institute (IPI) calls on Slovak authorities to thoroughly investigate the recent surveillance of Denník N journalist, Monika Tódová and swiftly identify those responsible

Denník N journalist Monika Tódová was monitored and photographed by a man in an SUV for at least two days at the beginning of January while she was living with her family in a cottage in the High Tatra Mountains in northern Slovakia. The car remained parked outside the property for eight hours.

The journalist was also watched by another unknown man around the same time who was stationed outside the cottage in a car with a Bratislava number plate. The same car was spotted following Tódová after she returned to Bratislava. The surveillance of a prominent Slovak journalist bore alarming echoes of the surveillance campaign that has been linked to the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak in 2018.

The suspicious behaviour was reported to the police at the time and one of the men was given a disciplinary fine for breaking curfew. The Regional Directorate of the Police Force (PZ) confirmed that the department of the High Tatras PZ had launched a criminal procedure for “dangerous surveillance” and was currently analyzing available information.

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Portugal: four journalists under illegal police surveillance

Portugal: four journalists under illegal police surveillance

As part of the MFRR, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and International Press Institute condemns the surveillance of four Portuguese journalists, at the request of Lisbon public prosecutor Andrea Marques, as part of the investigation into leaks related to the “e-Toupeira” corruption case, launched in March 2018.

On 13 January 2021, Portuguese media revealed that a number of journalists were secretly monitored between April and May 2018 by the surveillance department of the Polícia de Segurança Pública (PSP).

The surveillance programme was ordered by Lisbon public prosecutor Andrea Marques as part of a wider investigation into high-level leaks related to the “electronic mole” scandal involving Benfica football club.

Without prior authorisation from an investigating judge and in order to identify the sources of the journalists, Prosecutor Marques ordered, on 3 April 2018, the police to record the SMS exchanges of journalists Silvia Caneco (“Visao”), Isabel Horta (“SIC”), Carlos Rodrigues Lima (“Sabado”) and Henrique Machado (“Correio da Manha” and TVI).

The police even obtained access to the personal bank account of one of the journalists. Carlos Rodrigues Lima was heard as a suspect on 30 November 2020 and Henrique Machado was also heard as a suspect on 8 January 2021.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), its affiliate the Portuguese Union of Journalists (SJ) and International Press Institute (IPI) denounces this clear violation of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, considering its importance for press freedom in a democratic society and the potentially chilling effect that an order for disclosure of a source has on the exercise of that freedom.

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Albania: Private companies are not immune from press scrutiny…

Albania: Private companies are not immune from press scrutiny and ECPMF condemns attempts to target journalists

The continued use of legal threats in Albania against journalists and media workers threatens media and press freedom. As part of the MFRR, ECPMF condemns these attempts to silence critical reporting through the abuse of Albania’s legal system.

Graphic illustration: © Jurgena Tahiri / BIRN

Amongst these threats is the legal action brought by the influential business owner Mirel Mërtit against the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), which investigated Mërtit’s controversial business practices and published stories on three major Public-Private Partnership contracts for waste incinerators. In response to BIRN’s investigative work, Mërtiri filed a lawsuit and demanded damages, while claiming that “journalists do not have a right to write or raise suspicions over his past dealing because he has not been criminally convicted”.

The lawsuit against BIRN was not the only threat to journalists connected to Mërtiri. Artan Rama, a freelance journalist and filmmaker, published a story involving the company Albtek Energy, which is connected to Mirel Mërtit. As a result of his reporting, Artan Rama faces legal actions initiated by Albtek Energy for damaging its reputation, which further jeopardise Rama’s reporting, while also dissuading others from investigating Mirel Mërtit and other influential business leaders.

ECPMF condemns these legal threats and calls on all pursuers to drop their legal actions as they explicitly threaten media freedom for all journalists in Albania.

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Turkey: ECPMF highly concerned about arrests of Mezopotamya Agency…

Turkey: ECPMF highly concerned about arrests of Mezopotamya Agency reporters

ECPMF condemns the ongoing persecution of the Mezopotamya Agency after more journalists are arrested in Turkey

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) is highly concerned over the detention and arrest of four reporters in the southeast of Turkey, on 17 December 2020. We call for their immediate and unconditional release. We condemn the continued persecution against the outlet as this is the third incident to take place in as many months.

According to news reports, journalists for the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya Agency (MA) Zeynep Durgut and Azad Kaya and Jinnews reporters Rojda Aydın and Derya Ren were taken into custody while entering the Cizre district, after reporting from Şırnak city. Durgut was arrested. She is said to be facing an arrest warrant in relation to the investigation launched by the Van Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office into the case of Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut. Police released the other three journalists after insulting them.

This follows two previous occasions in October and November where MA journalists were arrested, the offices raided and equipment confiscated. ECPMF is highly concerned about the sustained attacks on Mezopotamya Agency and its reporters and collaborators. The arrest and detention of media workers for their reporting on public interest matters violates their rights to liberty and freedom of expression and the general public’s right to information. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Zeynep Durgut, Azad Kaya, Rojda Aydın and Derya Ren, and all their detained colleagues.

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Malta: Threats to the independence of the public inquiry…

Malta: Threats to the independence of the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia must stop

16 December marks 38 months since Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in Malta, yet barriers to justice remain as Maltese official continue to threaten the public inquiry set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding her murder

On Tuesday, 15 December, the Maltese Prime Minister, Robert Abela told members of the board presiding over the public inquiry that they must “shoulder the responsibility of its decisions and the consequences these bring” after the inquiry panel ruled to extend the inquiry’s deadline in line with its terms of reference. Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis reiterated this threat, stating in Parliament that “If the public inquiry is not completed, the rule of the jungle will take over.” This followed a decree made by the members of the board of inquiry the previous day, following testimony from former OPM Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri where they stated that the inquiry would continue past the 15 December deadline set unilaterally by the Prime Minister and that “they would not accept any undue pressure or interference curtailing their brief.”

A number of MFRR partners, alongside other press freedom, journalist and transparency organisations condemn these threats and call for the independence of the inquiry to be respected

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Maltese court fails to protect press freedom: Gafà acquitted…

Maltese court fails to protect press freedom: Gafà acquitted for threats to journalist

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, as part of the MFRR, condemns today’s court ruling in the criminal proceedings against Neville Gafà for threats he made on Twitter against Italian journalist Nello Scavo.

On 27 June 2020, Gafà, a former person of trust in the Office of the Maltese Prime Minister, issued a threat against Scavo of the newspaper Avvenire. In response to a tweet posted by AlarmPhone, an independent support organisation for people crossing the Mediterranean, Gafà called on the organisation to “stop your dirty business”. When Scavo responded, questioning the former official’s record, Gafà called for him to “stop your dirty business. If not, we will be stopping you.”

According to the Maltese magistrate, Scavo’s initial response to the tweet did not indicate he had perceived it as a threat. To support this, she noted that Scavo did not file a police report in Italy, although he has been under police protection following threats related to his reporting on immigration and organised crime since October 2019. In his defence, Gafà had said that he did not have the intention to threaten Scavo and that his tweet was a political comment about illegal immigration directed towards AlarmPhone. Overall, the judge found there was insufficient evidence to support the criminal charge and acquitted Gafà.

ECPMF believes that Gafà’s acquittal today is not only an injustice to Scavo. In failing to recognise how journalists are pressured and intimidated, it is also a disappointment for everyone who considers that receiving threats and insults should not be a routine “part of the job” for journalists.

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Purchase of Polska Press by state energy giant spells…

Purchase of Polska Press by state energy giant spells disaster for media freedom in Poland

A long-feared, Hungary-style takeover of independent media in Poland gathered pace as a state-controlled energy giant announced the acquisition of a media company with more than 20 regional dailies, 120 weekly magazines and 500 online portals across the country, the International Press Institute (IPI) warned.

On 7 December, the state-controlled oil refiner and petrol retailer PKN Orlen announced that it would purchase 100% of the shares of Polska Press from German company Verlagsgruppe Passau for a reported PLN 120 million (€27 million).

As one of the country’s largest media companies and owner of 20 out of Poland’s 24 regional newspapers, Polska Press has long been a target of PiS’s plans to “repolonize” and “deconcentrate” the media landscape.

In recent years, the government has repeatedly sought to pass legislative changes which would have forced foreign owners to sell up and leave. However, these proposed laws were met with strong political and diplomatic pressure from the U.S and the EU, forcing the Ministry of Culture to shelve the plans and the government to look for alternatives.

This distortion of the market by Orlen and other state-owned companies have resulted in the formation of various right-wing media outlets springing up in recently years to reap the financial benefits.

The deal also hands Orlen control of six printing works across the country and greater control over distribution of newspapers. Last month the energy giant also completed the purchase of a 65% stake in newsstand operator Ruch, which has a network of 1,300 newspaper kiosks across the country, leading to concerns that media unfavoured by the government would be poorly displayed. Similar tactics were used in Orlen’s network of petrol stations after PiS were elected in 2015.