Journalist Brutally Attacked by Businessman

Around midnight on 2 November, Mero Baze, a well known Albanian publicist and journalist was brutally attacked by the Albanian businessman Rezart Taçi and four of his bodyguards, following a series of reports in different media accusing Taçi of tax evasion, unlawful privatisation of the State-owned oil refinery ARMO, as well as oil smuggling.

Taçi has close ties to Prime Minister Sali Berisha. After having been beaten for four minutes, Baze was left unconscious with severe injuries to his body. Baze recovered in the Tirana Military Hospital and was released on 3 November.

Baze said he did not have any personal conflict with Taçi and was attacked because of his reports. In a statement on 3 November, PM Berisha has called the act “grave and ugly”, and “unacceptable for a free society”. He stressed that to the Albanian government maltreatment and pressure against journalists are grave and unjustifiable acts. He furthermore called on law enforcement authorities to bring the perpetrators before justice. President Bamir Topi also condemned the “vandal act”. Criminal proceedings have begun against two of the bodyguards and against Taçi, who turned himself in on 5 November.

Baze has already come under attack earlier this year when a government-friendly newspaper called for his murder. One month earlier, in January 2009, the police blocked (on “national security” grounds, without describing what these grounds were) the entrance to the premises that Baze’s critical newspaper Tema leases from the state, notwithstanding an earlier court order that had blocked eviction of Tema on the same “security” grounds. Before the blockade, on New Year’s Eve, Baze’s car went up in flames, in what Baze said was an attack, but which police described as “self-combustion due to a short circuit”.

Civil Rights Defenders and its partner, the Albanian Helsinki Committee, strongly condemn the latest brutal act of violence and violation of the freedom of speech. We strongly urge the competent authorities to thoroughly investigate this case and bring those responsible before justice.