Reporters Without Borders is very shocked to learn that newspaper editor Mero Baze was beaten unconscious by a pro-government businessman and two bodyguards three days ago. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the prime minister’s office in Tirana yesterday to protest against the frequency of attempts to intimidate journalists in Albania.
“Such use of violence is intolerable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It shows that certain businessmen who are allied with the government think they are all-powerful and do not have to account for their activities. We hail the universal condemnation this attack has received from the political class and the rapid police response, which suggests there is a will to put an end to impunity.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The fact that those involved in this incident are well known should help make people aware of the problem and encourage a debate about the press freedom situation in Albania.”
Baze, who edits the leading newspaper Tema and produces the investigative TV programme Faktori +, was attacked and badly beaten by businessman Rezart Taçi and two of his bodyguards at about 11 p.m. on 2 November. After the assault, Baze was taken unconscious to a military hospital.
The bodyguards have been arrested and an arrest warrant has been issued for Taçi, who nonetheless insists that he did not himself hit Baze. A close ally of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, Taçi is the owner of ARMO, an oil company that was privatised a year ago. In his investigative reporting, Baze has often accused him of using his government contacts to avoid paying taxes.
Baze has exposed major corruption cases in the past and this is not the first time he has been the target of violence. On one occasion shots were fired at his car, and at the end of last year his car caught fire for unclear reasons. He was hit in public by the supporters of some of the Socialist Party’s leaders in 2005.
In January of this year, police prevented Tema’s journalists from entering the newspaper’s headquarters as a result of an economy ministry decision, despite the fact that it had been overturned by a court.
Corruption, property deals and smuggling are all sensitive subjects in Albania, which was ranked 88th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. The press is politically very polarised and some privately-owned newspapers are linked to powerful business groups. This leaves little room for investigative journalism and independent economic analysis.