Key Findings

  • Politicization of Legal Cases and Electoral Impact:

The case of Fredi Beleri, an Albanian-Greek citizen elected as a Member of the European Parliament and currently imprisoned in Albania for vote-buying, was extensively politicized, influencing public perception significantly.

  • Nationalist Rhetoric and Its Influence

Beleri’s arrest and subsequent conviction were accompanied by aggressive nationalist rhetoric, widely amplified by the media. This rhetoric transformed the sensitive issue of the Greek minority into a potent political tool for attracting attention and support.

  • Disinformation and Photo Manipulation:

There was widespread dissemination of manipulated and contextually misleading photos in both traditional media and social networks. This tactic, aimed at targeting specific communities, was identified as part of a deliberate disinformation strategy by colleagues within the Elections24Check project

  • Nationalist Narratives and Their Consequences:

The nationalist narratives surrounding Beleri’s case exacerbated polarization and tension between Albania and Greece. Experts argue that these narratives not only influenced public opinion but also strained bilateral relations and complicated efforts toward Euro-integration.

Viola Keta

On Sunday, June 9th, in Himara, a picturesque tourist town on Albania’s Ionian coast, members of the Greek minority celebrated the election of Fredi Beleri as a Member of the European Parliament for Greece’s right-wing party ‘New Democracy’. The 52-year-old politician, who holds dual Albanian-Greek citizenship, received news of his victory while serving a prison sentence in Albania, convicted by the anti-corruption court for electoral bribery.

Fredi Beleri’s journey from arrest to election as a Member of the European Parliament

Fredi Beleri ran for Mayor of Himara in Albania’s May 2023 local elections under the banner of the right-wing coalition ‘Together We Win’. However, he was arrested two days before the election. According to a media statement by the prosecution, he was caught red-handed exchanging money for votes.

In the picture, Fredi Beleri is shown next to the ‘Together We Win’ logo.

Beleri narrowly won the mayoral race in Himara by a 19-vote margin against his Socialist Party rival, who has led the executive since 2013. Despite his victory, the controversial winner of Himara municipality never took office as Mayor because courts at all levels, including the Constitutional Court, refused to grant him permission to attend and be sworn in for the position.

Decision denying permission to Take Oath, dated June 26, 2023

Decision denying permission to Take Oath, dated June 26, 2023

In March 2024, Fredi Beleri was found guilty by the Court against Crime and Corruption for the criminal offense of ‘Active Corruption in Elections‘ committed in collaboration, under articles 328-25 of the Penal Code. He was sentenced to 2 years and 6 months in prison.

Just a month after the Albanian court’s decision, in April 2024, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis announced Fredi Beleri as a candidate for the European Parliament.

Politicization and Disinformation, the trajectory of the ‘Beleri’ case

‘If I hadn’t been convicted, I wouldn’t have endured this year-long ordeal, gained recognition in Greece, or been elected or considered as an MEP. My initial goal was to be elected Mayor of Himara. Edi Rama unintentionally assisted in this election,’ said Fredi Beleri in a phone interview with Euronews from Fier prison, awaiting the Court of Appeals decision on June 25th.

From Faktoje’s analysis of reporting since his May 2023 arrest to date, there’s been pronounced media polarization, echoing the political divides. Media and political parties in Albania focused on mutual accusations with harsh, sensationalist language, highlighting nationalist narratives resonating deeply with Albanian citizens concerning the Greek minority issue and its historical context. This discourse has also resonated with hundreds of thousands of Albanian immigrants living and working in Greece.

Trends in Disinformation

Manipulated Photos

One notable instance of recurring disinformation concerning Fredi Beleri was identified by Faktoje in May 2023, prior to his Himara mayoral election, and again following his June 2024 MEP election. The photo shared on social media depicting him armed was confirmed to be digitally altered.

Left, Original photo; Right, Manipulated photo (verified by Faktoje on May 5, 2023, and June 14, 2024).

Left, Original photo; Right, Manipulated photo, with manipulated elements highlighted by red arrows (verified by Faktoje on May 5, 2023, and June 14, 2024).


The strategy of sharing manipulated images (photos or videos) taken out of context to provoke emotional reactions and manipulate public perception is recognized by colleagues from fact-checking organizations, particularly during electoral periods. According to a database involving 44 European organizations, including Faktoje, the Elections24Check project, and the Spanish organization EFE Verifica, it was found that the disinformation strategy using manipulated images is employed to target specific categories, such as immigrants. This analysis revealed that 1 in 5 claims involved criminalizing these groups.

Faktoje has also identified similar tactics targeting sensitive categories or communities based on state typologies. For example, in Albania and Greece, issues regarding Greek minorities in Albania and their rights have become contentious points between the two countries. As we’ll explore further in the case of Beleri, these disinformation narratives emerged following heated rhetoric between rival political parties within the country and were disseminated by media outlets aligned with opposing camps.

Harsh and nationalist rhetoric

Learn Albanian, then learn Greek, and then come here and speak. Scoundrel.’ – said Prime Minister Rama during a live television conversation on May 11, 2023. This was Rama’s response to a comment made by Fredi Beleri and read aloud by the show’s host. This reaction is typical in campaign contexts, reflecting a study showing that 85% of political discussions in Albania are characterized by hate speech and the denigration of political rivals, as reported by Faktoje.

However, the events following May 11, 2023, framed this statement as the beginning of a narrative focusing on the Greek minority issue, with significant implications.  The day after the statement, Fredi Beleri was arrested, but media headlines did not treat it as a legal matter initiated by justice but rather as a politically motivated scenario.

‘Edi Rama announced the arrest of Fredi Beleri from Fevziu’s studio,’-wrote one of the many monitored portals following the arrest of the right-wing candidate on May 12, 2023.

‘Berisha on Greek television: Beleri was ensnared by the police,’ reported the Lapsi portal, citing the statement of Democratic Party chairman Sali Berisha.

On the other hand, the portals continued to fuel nationalist narratives and divisions.

‘Berisha, after ‘clashing’ with Beleri, accuses and disparages the people of Shkodra as being for sale,’ reported

‘Hellenization of Himara, Berisha defends Beleri: He has no power to alter history,’ reports another portal

Such narratives overshadowed the focused reporting on the investigative and judicial process against Fredi Beleri, who was pre-detained for vote-buying, with the prosecution presenting several pieces of evidence illustrating the accusation, but contested by Beleri and his supporters as fabricated. ‘Rama lacks the courage to keep Beleri in prison / Gjokutaj: His release will be portrayed as a judicial decision,’ wrote one portal.

Nationalist Narratives and Impact Beyond Albania

Immediately after the arrest on May 12, 2023, Prime Minister Mitsotakis reacted by emphasizing the Greek minority and its rights as a concern at the European level. 

‘I informed President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen about the arrest and the baseless accusations against Fredi Beleri, candidate for Mayor of Himara and member of the Greek national minority, just two days before the elections.’

We must defend the rights of the Greek minority in Albania‘ responded Nikos Papandreu, leader of the Greek PASOK group in the European Parliament, who viewed Fredi Beleri’s arrest as a form of political intimidation, while Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama continues to insist that Beleri’s arrest is a matter of Albanian justice.

‘What happens in Greece and what those who hold dual nationality do is not my concern, but here in Albania, every Albanian citizen, whether they identify as Albanian or Greek, is subject to Albanian justice,’ he emphasized, nearly a year after Beleri’s arrest.

The Beleri case, within the created climate, took on dimensions that emerged from the local framework.

From the beginning of the process, it was clear that the case would be politicized and there would be a lengthy debate between the two countries. I think the Albanian public also understands the politicization of the issue as a negative aspect that damages the judicial system currently undergoing transformative reform.’ stated Gledis Gjipali, Executive Director of the European Movement Albania.

Under the argument of monitoring the respect for the rights of a Greek minority citizen, the investigation and trial process of Fredi Beleri in Albania was accompanied by the presence of a group of Greek lawyers and diplomats from Greece in Tirana, with regular visits to the cell by Greek government officials.

In April 2024, during the campaign for the European Parliament elections, a second wave of inaccurate reports emerged in the local media regarding Fredi Beleri’s candidacy as a Member of the European Parliament.  

‘Beleri will not be Mitsotakis’s candidate in the European elections,’ reported a media outlet on April 11, 2024.

Greece abandons Fredi Beleri after pressure from Germany…’ reported another portal during that time.

A few days later, Fredi Beleri was announced as a candidate for the ‘New Democracy’ party for MEP, while awaiting the Court of Appeal’s decision on his 2.5-year prison sentence. Following an electoral campaign led by his son, Beleri also secured a seat as a Member of the European Parliament.  

‘The fact that Beleri managed to win with a substantial number of votes in the European Parliament indicates the electorate’s sensitivity to minority issues in Albania. The Greece-Albania relations will continue to be a significant part of Greece’s internal political debate. This development is concerning, as it raises the possibility of future tensions with Greece, potentially leading to impeded or blocked negotiations,’ argued Gledis Gjipali for Faktoje.

The legal aspect, the mandate as a Member of the European Parliament, and the Mayor of Himara

Beyond examining how politicization and misinformation influenced Beleri’s case, there are also questions about his dual roles: as the Mayor of Himara in Albania and as an MEP.   

Beleri faces no legal impediments to assuming his seat in the European Parliament.

‘Greek criminal courts have no ongoing cases against Beleri that would threaten his disqualification. In the view of the EU Parliament, Mr. Beleri has been elected by the Greek people to represent them; he holds a national mandate from Greece – and only Greece has the authority to revoke this mandate (i.e., if he is convicted of a crime by a Greek criminal court).

His position in the European Parliament cannot be revoked, even if the European Parliament were to vote to lift his immunity. Only Greece can take such action,” responded colleagues from Ellinica Hoaxes, a fact-checking organization, among other insights provided to Faktoje.

Will Fredi Beleri be sworn in at the European Parliament?

The swearing-in ceremony at the European Parliament is scheduled between July 16-19. Fredi Beleri’s participation in this ceremony (which experts say is not mandatory) depends on the decision expected from the Court of Appeal Against Crime and Corruption in Albania on June 25.

Legal experts foresee two scenarios that complicate Fredi Beleri’s election as an MEP.  

Scenario 1 – Upholding of the guilty verdict for Beleri by the Court of Appeal

If Fredi Beleri is also found guilty by the Court of Appeal and the decision becomes final, according to constitutionalist Kristaq Kume, his mandate as mayor of Himara will be suspended. This, however, will not affect his MEP mandate. With the decision upheld, Beleri is expected to be released from prison in early September, as explained by his lawyer, Geni Gjyzari.

Scenario 2. If the Court of Appeal declares Beleri innocent, he will be immediately released from prison and could participate in the swearing-in ceremony in mid-July as an MEP, provided he chooses to resign as Mayor of Himara and serve as a Member of the European Parliament.


According to research into the European Parliament’s history since 1952, instances of convicted individuals or politicians being elected as MEPs are rare.

Examples include former extreme right-wing leader in France Jean Marie Le Pen, primarily convicted for uncontested statements about the Holocaust, and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, mainly for issues related to tax evasion.

Based on our findings, the election of a convicted individual (pending final verdict) for vote-buying remains a unique case in the European Parliament.

*This article is part of a collaborative project involving over 40 organizations led by the European Fact-Checking Network to fight misinformation surrounding the 2024 European Elections. More information can be found at


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