By: Ilda Hoxha
On June 20th, the “Ashraf 3” camp in Manza took center stage in media coverage following a police inspection on the camp premises. The Mujahideen, known as opponents of the Iranian regime, alleged that their territory had been violated, and one of their members died due to police violence. This sparked a media frenzy, with sensational headlines claiming dozens of wounded and a full-blown battlefield, inducing public panic. However, just 24 hours later, the war narrative was debunked as the true facts of the incident surfaced.
Reports of a “war” emerged on June 20th, making rounds in several media outlets, especially online portals, after police intervention in the ‘Ashraf 3’ camp in Manza. The police operation, carried out under the order of SPAK (Special Anti-Corruption Structure), was extensively covered, but the information disseminated was contradictory and unverified. Both traditional and online media closely tracked every development inside the Mujahideen camp, sensationalizing the unfolding events as a “war,” discussing casualties, and injuries.
“Manza: A War Scene Unfolds, 2 Reported Dead Inside the Camp, Dozens More Injured!” wrote “Koha Jona” in an article dated June 20.
Source Koha Jonë
These claims of casualties and injuries quickly spread, becoming a focal point of discussion on various television programs. Notably, the reporting highlighted how “the media was adding fuel to the fire,” resorting to sensational headlines without prior confirmation from official sources.
“MEK Camp in Manza: Panic and Fear, 1 Dead, Several Wounded,” reported Top News.
Source: Top News
Some other media outlets used interviews with camp representatives, suggesting that over 100 Mujahideen were injured due to violence by the State Police.
“You can film the deceased,” the Mujahideen camp doctor reveals: “Over 100 injured, 3 in critical condition sent to Trauma,” wrote “Newsbomb”
Furthermore, the media circulated images of a lifeless body inside the MEK camp in Manza, presenting it as an exclusive and confirmed news piece.
“Exclusive/With Photos, a death inside the Mujahideen camp confirmed, doctor speaks: They were struck with batons and tear gas,” reports Gazeta Shqip.
Source: Gazeta Shqip
Reports on the developments at the MEK camp dominated all media outlets in Albania and beyond, including Kosovo. The news of alleged victims and hundreds of wounded was also echoed in the Kosovar media. The prevailing narrative portrayed a “war” unfolding between the police and the Mujahideen in Albania.
In all reports, whether from traditional or online media in our country and Kosovo, articles were solely based on the camp doctor’s claim that the person lost his life due to police violence. However, no factual evidence was presented regarding the cause of death.
What did the MEK officials declare?
The National Council of Resistance of Iran Secretariat, through an official statement, declared that 1,000 Albanian police officers attacked the ‘Ashraf 3’ camp, resulting in one fatality and 100 injuries.
They broke many doors, cupboards, and equipment and attacked the residents with tear gas and pepper spray. Many computers were destroyed or taken.
As a result of this criminal attack, a member of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), Mr. Ali Mostashari, was killed, and more than 100 people were injured due to the police firing pepper spray. Many of them are in critical condition, and some have been transferred to the ‘Mother Teresa’ Hospital in Tirana.
The actions of the Albanian police resemble the criminal attacks by Nouri al-Maliki forces in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, between 2009 and 2015,” stated the official MEK declaration.
Response from the State Police and Ministry of Interior
Regarding the situation at the Mujahideen camp, the State Police issued an official response on June 20th, clarifying the reasons for the operation.
“In the implementation of the Special Anti-Corruption and Organized Crime Court’s decision and the execution order from the Prosecutor’s Office at this Court, aimed at controlling all premises and offices where they reside for humanitarian purposes, the State Police, within an operational plan, has started controlling all premises and offices at the MEK camp in Manëz, Durrës.
In the implementation of the orders issued by the Court, the State Police has taken measures for their implementation, with a plan to control the premises within the MEK camp territory, rigorously applying ethics and communication while respecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of all citizens and the community residing in this camp,” clarified the State Police.
After the police, there was a reaction from the Ministry of Interior:
“The police operation at the Mujahideen camp in Manza was conducted in accordance with SPAK’s order and the decision of GJKKO. They emphasized that it was a consequence of actions that flagrantly violated the agreement and commitments made by the MEK group since 2014, when they settled in Albania solely for humanitarian purposes”.
Following the incidents, Minister of Interior, Bledi Çuçi and General Director of the State Police, Muhamet Rrumbullaku denied the accusations raised by the Mujahideen, asserting that the victim in the camp was not caused by police violence.
“The person who died today in the camp, I assure you that the death was not caused by any action of the police forces. We are awaiting the forensic expertise. There are images from the police, but I am convinced that there are also images from the MEK members that confirm this, as not even one member was touched. We will wait for the forensic expertise”, said Çuçi in a media statement.
Meanwhile, Rrumbullaku emphasized:
“We used only individual spray; we have suffered damage, 15 police officers have been injured, several police vehicles have been damaged, and 21 citizens have been injured amongst them”.
Reaction of US State Department and Ambassador Yuri Kim
The clash between the State Police and the camp members of “Ashraf” also prompted a reaction from the U.S. Department of State. The DASH expressed its support for the police action and even raised doubts about MEK’s activities as an organization.
“The State Police in Albania has assured us that all actions were carried out in accordance with the laws in force, including the protection of the rights and freedoms of all individuals in Albania. We support the right of the Government of Albania to investigate any possible illegal activities within its territory,” stated the DASH in a declaration to “Radio Free Europe”.
Ambassador Yuri Kim in Tirana also explicitly supported the actions taken by the Albanian government.
“She argued, “We support Albania’s right to enforce its laws within its territory. There are certain conditions that apply to every guest in your country, and guests must respect them.
Asked whether Albania should expel the Mujahideen, Kim emphasized:
“It is a decision that belongs to the Albanian government.”
The media and the ‘war’ narrative in the eyes of experts.
How do experts see media reporting on the incidents at the MEK camp? Aleksandër Çipa, President of the Union of Journalists, told Faktoje that reporting should not be considered the transfer of rumours or speculation from random individuals in an event where secrecy prevails, as in the case of the MEK camp, where several shocking episodes occurred a few days ago. He emphasized the importance of verifying information before reporting and avoiding the dissemination of unverified news that can lead to panic. He suggested that reporters should utilize the opportunity offered by MEK offices and communication individuals more effectively and exercise caution in relying on official sources for accurate information.
“I propose recognizing the online media outlets established by the residents of this camp. Specific pages they maintain on social networks should be followed in more than three languages. Further investigate the organizational and communication structures they have established within the camp.
Continue monitoring the reported data on the cyber capabilities they have developed within the camp and shed light on their activities both within the camp and within the international network of this Iranian political opposition in exile, which currently holds significance in geopolitical contexts and international developments among major powers.
Reveal the published news about the risks or threats posed to the country and Albanian society by the presence of this camp and its considerable number of residents in Albania. Examine the reported news and data, which might be staged, fabricated, or involve conspiracies,” argues Mr. Çipa.
Regarding this issue, communication expert Edlira Gjoni emphasizes that the media in Albania succumbed to sensational reporting, misleading the audience. “Instead of journalists seeking information about the underlying reasons, they resorted to sensationalism, using terms like fear, panic, and misinformation about victims and the wounded. This shows that the media is keen to sell what attracts clicks. The traditional media, those providing news 24/7 and reaching all Albanians, hastily engaged in such reporting, which became unreliable, misleading, and, in my opinion, even misinformative,” she explains.
The communication expert suggests that when addressing significant security-related matters, the media should exercise more caution in their reporting. “What drew my attention to the erroneous media reporting that occurred in Manza was the eagerness to rush and transmit claims from MEK members in the Albanian media, rather than adopting a strategic approach. It caught my attention how, in such a crucial security-related issue, the Albanian media hurriedly sought clicks and provided live coverage. The media must learn that for professional reporting and to enhance trust, it needs to learn the virtue of patience,” expresses Gjoni.