|Illustration. Photo: Ivana Dervishi/BIRN|
“AKEP, in accordance with the legal and regulatory framework, informs all the subjects registered as online portals that they should publish their tax number on their contact page within 72 hours,” AKEP said in a statement.
“AKEP urges those persons who have a connection with the [listed] portals to get a tax number from the National Business Centre within 72 hours and to declare their tax number on their website,” it added.
However the statement did not cite the legislation that deems this to be necessary.
The move comes after Prime Minister Edi Rama said on Friday that websites must be ‘legalised’ by registering with the tax authorities as part of an ‘anti-defamation’ drive targeting online media.
Rama said he wanted to ensure the “urbanisation of the online jungle”.
But BIRN Albania’s director Kristina Voko said the AKEP statement showed blatant misunderstanding of the country’s laws, and was an attempt by the government to exert direct control over institutions that by law are independent from it.
“Apparently, the prime minister’s anti-defamation campaign started with a state institution publishing defamatory data without a proper fact-checking procedure and without communicating with the parties involved,” Voko said.
BIRN Albania is an NGO registered at the Tirana court and fully complies with the domestic tax code. Reporter.al is a website registered in Albania and its contact page includes data on its ownership and its physical address.
It is currently unclear what procedure that AKEP has followed to prepare the list of websites that it said should be registered.
“A simple email to us would have sufficed to learn more about BIRN and its tax status,” Voko said.
“Apparently, AKEP is not interested in verifying its information. It is a shame, because unconfirmed information is what leads to the defamation that is the prime minister’s concern,” she added.
AKEP didn’t immediately answer BIRN’s emailed request for a comment.
One of the websites included in the list, Insideri.com, is actually from in Kosovo.
Parim Olluri, editor at Insideri.com, expressed concern that his website was on the list.
“I am surprised by Edi Rama wishing to copy North Korea,” Olluri wrote on Facebook.
“We are a business registered in Kosovo. We do not need to be registered also in Albania. The Guardian, the New York Times, the BBC etc are not registered as businesses in every country in the world from where they can be read,” he added.
Neritan Sejamini, the publisher of the Exit.al site, said the AKEP statement said a lot about the way in which the government of Albania currently works.
“The AKEP order is not based on any law and the list clearly shows a wish to close down government critics,” Sejamini said.
“Exit.al is a non-for-profit organisation and it is registered as such with the tax authorities. As an NGO, it is not engaged in any commercial activity and cannot be registered as such,” Sejamini added.
Blendi Fevziu, the publisher of Opinion.al, said its inclusion on the AKEP list must be a mistake.
“Opinion.al is registered as a company with its tax identification number. We cannot sell ads without tax receipts,” Fevziu told BIRN.
Technically, AKEP can order internet service providers to block access to certain websites in Albania.
The head of AKEP, Ilir Zela, is a former MP from premier Rama’s Socialist Party.