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news 12 Nov 15

Albania Backs off From Restoring Defamation Crime

The Albanian government has pledged to abandon moves to restore prison sentences for defamation after being slammed by journalists and the OSCE.

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana

Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama | Photo: Facebook

Following a hostile reaction from the media and pressure from international bodies such as the OSCE, the Albanian government has withdrawn a draft amendment that aimed to re-criminalize defamation of senior officials.

The last 24 hours in Albania were tense after media found out on Wednesday that the government had asked parliament's Commission on Laws to amend the criminal code and restore defamation as a crime.

This sparked outrage among the journalists, protests and allegations that the move was undertaken by the Prime Minister to keep the media silent.

In a statement, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, urged parliament "to reject a bill that establishes imprisonment as a penalty for libel against public figures.

“Criminal sanctions for libel or defamation are excessive and disproportionate. They should be replaced by effective and appropriate civil or administrative law remedies," she suggested.

Addressing journalist outrage on Thursday, Prime Minister Edi Rama on Facebook tried to defuse the row, saying the changes proposed in the law code had nothing to with re-criminalization of libel. He called the outcry a "big misunderstanding.

"Defamation should be a criminal offence for politicians who are paid from citizens' taxes," he wrote.

Laterm the Minister for Relations with Parliament, Ermonela Felaj, assured the media that the government would withdraw the draft amendment and reformulate the article in question.

The government proposal aimed to change article 238 of the criminal code and punish by up to three years of prison anyone found guilty of defaming senior or elected officials.

Former Prime Minister Sali Berisha abolished the section of the criminal code that made defamation a crime in 2012.

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