SafeJournalists: Dismay Regarding Seizure of Equipment of Albanian Journalist and Pressure to Reveal His Sources

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    SafeJournalists Network has been closely monitoring the case of Elton Qyno, a journalist with Ora News television in Albania, who was questioned for nearly seven hours on December 13, 2023, in Tirana by the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecution Office (SPAK) and specifically asked to reveal his sources. In a public statement, SPAK maintained that Qyno published articles on Ora News that are suspected of being an illegal disclosure of secret data from preliminary investigations related to a criminal case (No.75/2022). During his questioning on December 13, 2023, Qyno was urged to explain how he obtained the data, to disclose the sources, and why he chose to publish them, which are actions prohibited by procedural law. Qyno firmly kept his source confidential, invoking journalistic professional secrecy. 

    In response, SPAK then obtained three orders by the First Instance of the Court against Corruption and Organized Crime that allowed investigators of SPAK to conduct a personal inspection of Elton Qyno, inspection of his private residence and office at Ora News TV, and seizure of computer data in his workplace, files, CD, his car keys, and home laptop as well as two mobile phones found in a coffee bar next to SPAK. Previously, SPAK, with an order dated June 14, 2022, had prohibited Elton Qyno to publish data related to this criminal investigation, who nonetheless continued to publish articles, leading to a new investigation under criminal procedure number 245/2023 for potential illegal disclosure of secret data by SPAK. While being questioned on December 13, Qyno signed a declaration provided by SPAK investigators and committed not to publish any information from the ongoing investigation of this case. He has not published anything since then. 

    On December 15, 2023, Qyno expressed his disappointment regarding SPAK’s actions. He has appealed the order for the seizure of equipment before the Special Court of Appeal Against Corruption and Organized Crime (here). The journalist’s lawyer, Dorian Matlija, maintains the first-instance orders are very broad, issued in haste, and do not allow for the journalist or his lawyer to be present during the investigators’ inspections of his private residence and office. He claims these orders violate standards established by the High Court on protecting sources and journalistic materials. The orders of First Instance of the Court against Corruption and Organized Crime violate the ECtHR standard on source protection, according to reactions from Qyno’s lawyer and other independent organizations in Albania. 

    The case has garnered significant solidarity from journalists and colleagues in Albania, upholding the principle that a journalist must not reveal his sources.

    SafeJournalists Network notes that SPAK should have utilized all available investigative methods to investigate potential leaks from their institution, without pressuring for sources and seizing equipment of the journalist. The law enforcement agencies should prioritize securing and safeguarding information related to investigations before targeting journalists and their sources. This approach is vital to protecting journalists and ensuring professional and comprehensive investigations. 

    “We recognize the complexities inherent in the case of Elton Qyno. While steadfastly supporting the principle of source protection, this case also reminds us of the importance of journalists to respect ethical guidelines. We advocate for a media landscape where journalistic integrity coexists with legal compliance, stressing the need for a legal framework that harmonizes the protection of journalistic sources with the principles of justice and transparency. The resolution of this case could set a significant precedent for how journalistic freedoms are balanced with the demands of judicial processes in Albania, potentially impacting the trust between journalists, their sources, and the public but also with the law enforcement agencies” – Blerjana Bino, SJN Researcher in Albania.  

    SafeJournalists Network is concerned to learn that the Tirana Special Court has authorized SPAK to control the private residence and office of Elton Qyno and seize equipment to uncover journalistic sources. Such a decision poses a significant threat to media freedom and may deter sources from sharing information with journalists.

    SafeJournalists Network urges SPAK to return all the equipment to Elton Qyno and insists that it should refrain in the future from initiating cases that endanger sources of journalists. SafeJournalists Network   is looking forward to the decision of the Special Court of Appeal Against Corruption and Organized Crime in this regard. 

    SafeJournalists Network stands in solidarity with Elton Qyno and other journalists in Albania and we will be monitoring this case very closely. 

     

    Every attack on journalists touches upon public interest, democracy, and the rights of all citizens.

    Pristina – Skopje – Sarajevo – Zagreb – Belgrade – Podgorica – Tirana, December 21, 2023

     

    Association of Journalists of Kosovo

    Association of Journalists of Macedonia

    BH Journalists Association

    Croatian Journalists’ Association

    Independent Journalists Association of Serbia

    Trade Union of Media of Montenegro