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Pastor Paulin Vilajeti had called the organization in a TV show a “dangerous Satanic cult” “sowing hatred” and “inciting suicide.”

Only recently did Euronews Albania, a subsidiary of Euronews France, take out from its YouTube channel discriminatory expressions against the Jehovah’s Witnesses used by a guest in its popular talk show “Good Morning Albanians,” as ordered by the Commissioner for Protection Against Discrimination (CPAD) on January 25, 2024

On May 18, 2023, one of the topics discussed in “Good Morning, Albanians” was the yearly report on religious freedom that had just been issued by the U.S. Department of State. One of the guests invited to discuss the matter was Pastor Paulin Vilajeti of the Evangelical Brotherhood in Albania. As the CPAD noted, Pastor Vilajeti is a “public person” as he is “regularly invited on television and other media, to analyze and express opinions on various social, religious events, etc.” and has some 50,000 social media followers.

While this was not the main theme of the discussion, Pastor Vilajeti was confronted with a screenshot showing a statement he made in 2020, that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a “Satanic cult, anti-Christ.” The Albanian word used was “sekti,” which as words in other languages derived from the Latin “secta” should be translated into English as “cult,” not as “sect.” In fact, in English “sect” has a different and less derogatory meaning, while the word used to stigmatize religious movements perceived as dangerous is “cult.”

Vilajeti confirmed that what he said in 2020 “is true” and reiterated that “the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult where there are already facts that because of their policies many have committed suicide. And I think personally this is Satanism.” Continuing the discussion, he called the Jehovah’s Witnesses a “dangerous cult,” “sowing hatred,” and stated that “these are the cults the state needs to deal with seriously.”

On May 29, 2023, a right-of-reply request correcting these statements was sent to Euronews Albania, which ignored it. On June 19, 2023, the Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint against both Pastor Vilajeti and Euronews with the CPAD and also informed the State Committee for Religions (SCR). On June 27, 2023, the SCR wrote to the Jehovah’s Witnesses that it had shared their concerns with the Evangelical Brotherhood of Albania, telling the Protestant organization that statements like Pastor Vilajeti’s do not contribute to the harmony and good relationship among the different religions in the country.

On October 19, 2023, a hearing was held before the CPAD. Pastor Vilajeti was asked to publicly apologize for the expressions he had used, but he refused. On January 25, 2024, the CPAD rendered its decision against Euronews and Vilajeti.

The decision notes that Euronews’ main defense was that there had been no discrimination because the Jehovah’s Witnesses had also been invited to the talk show but had declined the invitation. Pastor Vilajeti’s defense largely focused on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal of blood transfusions, which he equated to “suicide” and called “a satanic practice.”

These arguments were not accepted by the CPAD, which noted that regardless of the different objections Pastor Vilajeti could raise against the doctrines and practices of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the subject matter of the complaint was the use of language inciting to hatred and discrimination (“hate speech.”) The CPAD found that in Pastor Vilajeti’s statements “believers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Albania are portrayed and labeled as negative models solely because of their religious beliefs. These statements, although not a direct threat to a specific person, can be understood as statements that incite hatred… The Commissioner stresses that the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the religious community they represent have been portrayed and labeled as negative models in the past [in Albania]… Because of media disinformation and false information this association and its believers were labeled negatively by being stereotyped and stigmatized before the public opinion.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tirana, Albania.

The CPAD concluded that” the language used by Mr. Paulin Vilajeti constitutes hate speech against the Jehovah’s Witness Association and the religious community they represent, because of their religious beliefs. The views expressed by him are in excess of freedom of expression and as such they may not enjoy protection under Articles 22 and 24 of the Constitution, Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For all the above reasons, the Commissioner considers that limiting hate speech is necessary and proportionate.” The CPAD’s decision quoted the relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and indeed its decision appears to be in harmony with ECtHR’s precedents.

Euronews Albania Television was asked to “take immediate measures to eliminate/cover the discriminatory expressions used by Mr. Paulin Vilajeti in the show ‘Good Morning Albanians’” available on YouTube. Pastor Vilajeti was asked to “issue a public statement (verbal or written) distancing himself from the use of hate speech against the Jehovah’s Witnesses Association and the religious community they represent—and avoid its use in the future.”

As mentioned earlier, only recently Euronews Albania took out from YouTube the slanderous expressions. Pastor Vilajeti posted a quite mild apology on its Facebook account.

The CPAD's decision is another important precedent confirming that there are limits to freedom of expression and the legitimate right to criticize a religious organization. Slander and insult are forms of “hate speech” and are not protected by freedom of expression.

In a recent internal letter to elders only the Governing Body did point out how they need to start making use of this new laws of "hate speech" in order to counteract any opposition

This case in Albania showcases the extend they will go to to silence their opposers and in a higher level the extent the ECHR will go to silence anyone that opposes cults and their dubious practices dressed as beliefs.

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