The Albanian government has moved to make changes to the 2014 law on freedom of information that would block FOI requests made by individuals, including journalists.
The proposal to block so-called “abusive requests” has raised concerns across the country, particularly given many Albanian institutions already have a track record of delaying answering requests, or only handing over documents via lengthy administration procedures.
The Ministry of Justice published the proposed changes on the government website earlier this week. The proposal also includes reduced fines for officials that fail to comply with submitted FOI requests.
“When requests for information are blatantly abusive, especially due to their repetitive character, the public authority may decide to end the administrative procedure without a definitive decision. The burden of proof to attest the abusive nature of the request belongs to the public authority,” the proposed changes read.
According to Flutura Kusari, an expert working for the European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the proposal to block FOI requests appears to target independent media outlets that have made the most use of freedom of information laws in a bid to hold public institutions to account.
“The proposed amendments to the Law on Access to Information seem to target independent media outlets in Albania that use FOI requests to receive information from public authorities,” Kusari said.
Kusari added that in order to make such substantial moves to block FOI requests, the government should first prove that there has been widespread abuse of the existing freedom of information law.
“[Instead] the evidence shows the opposite: the authorities arbitrarily withhold public information from media and journalists,” Kusari added.
Under Albania’s current FOI law, passed in 2014, citizens have the right to request information without the need to justify the request. At the same time, public institutions are obliged to hand over requested information under threat of fines.
Over the past few years, however, the Commissioner overseeing the existing FOI law has imposed few fines. Journalists, too, have warned that authorities routinely drag out the process of handing over politically sensitive information.
According to the European Commission’s 2022 Progress Report, Albania has made “no progress” on freedom of information, and continues to struggle with “the intersection of business and political interests” and “smear campaigns and acts of intimidation against journalists.”
“This is yet another attempt to hermetically close public institutions to make it impossible for journalists to hold power to account. We ask the Ministry of Justice to drop the proposed amendments,” Kusari told reporters.
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