ON THE FRONT LINES

Albania: A Demand for New Whistleblower Rights

The Institute for Democracy and Mediation, a Coalition member, successfully lobbied for the passage of Albania’s first whistleblower protection law. The law provides retaliation protection for government and company employees. The Institute and the Coalition provided extensive comments on the draft law, improving it significantly and ensuring that many international and European standards are included in the legislation.

The Law on Whistleblowing and the Protection of Whistleblowers passed the Albanian Parliament unanimously on June 2, 2016.


Bosnia and Herzegovina: Stop Punishing Tuzla Kvarc

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Smail and Zlatan Velagic survey the ruins of their demolished office building in Tuzla. (photo: Mark Worth)

The Center for Responsible Democracy-Luna, a Coalition member, is leading the campaign on behalf of Tuzla Kvarc, a small family-run mining company that has suffered persistent retaliation since uncovering a government bribery scheme in April 2015. Rather than being thanked for their efforts, the company and its director, Smail Velagic, have faced numerous penalties and sanctions.

Velagic and Tuzla Kvarc were criminally charged with mining quartz sand without a license, a spurious allegation based on highly disputed facts. Tax authorities have seized some of the company’s property, its bank account was frozen, and unknown perpetrators demolished a company office to smithereens in October 2015. (See: “The Price of Justice” on homepage.)

The Coalition has marshalled more than 12,000 people around the world to send e-mails demanding that Bosnian officials cease the retaliation. Join the campaign here!


Bulgaria: Working for a Strong Anti-Corruption Law

The Center for the Study of Democracy, a Coalition member, has worked to strengthen a proposed anti-corruption law that includes provisions for citizens to report misconduct. The Center is a member of a consultative council run by Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva, who has spoken in favor of citizens’ rights to report corruption.

Adopted by the Cabinet in March 2016, the law would unite four government institutions into a single anti-corruption agency whose duties would include protecting whistleblowers. The law cleared the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee in May but was held up in the Anti-Corruption Committee.

If passed, the Center and the Coalition will monitor the new provisions and track whistleblower cases to help ensure the law is properly enforced.

Hope for a comprehensive whistleblower protection law in Bulgaria remains. A 2014 government study said such a law is one option that should be considered.


Croatia: Pushing Back Against Media Crackdown

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Protesters gather in downtown Zagreb on May 3, 2016.

In response to a crackdown on media freedom, a coalition of NGOs including GONG (a Coalition member), Center for Peace Studies, Human Rights House Zagreb, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and Blueprint for Free Speech have launched a public campaign to defend freedom of expression. Public funding for certain non-profit media and NGOs is expected to be dramatically cut, the government has meddled in media staffing and programing decisions, and the Expert Committee for Non-Profit Media has been disbanded.

The main target of the NGOs’ campaign is newly appointed Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegović, who has been linked to a range of neo-Nazi organizations and publications. Hasanbegović reportedly has defended Ustaše, a fascist group that killed hundreds of thousands of Jews, Roma, Serbs and others during World War II. More than 3,500 artists, cultural workers and citizens have signed a public appeal calling for Hasanbegović’s dismissal.

Concerns about threats to media freedom in Croatia were aired in April 2016, when ambassadors from Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, the UK and US met to discuss the issue.


Czech Republic: Campaign for Long Overdue WBer Law

The Czech Republic’s best known whistleblower, Libor Michálek, is teaming up with local and international activists to push for a long promised whistleblower protection law. Among the partners in the initiative are the Czech NGO WBcz and Blueprint for Free Speech (both Coalition members).

Michálek is a hero of rare notoriety, having exposed two huge scandals. In 1996 he disclosed an embezzlement scheme related to a tunneling project, and in 2010 he reported a scam to inflate a public water project by some €120 million and siphon the money to a political party. In 2012 Michálek was elected to the Czech Senate, where he continues to actively fight for whistleblower rights and protections.


Hungary: Watchdogging New Whistleblower Protections

With Hungary’s new whistleblower protection law coming into effect on January 1, 2014, attention has turned to monitoring the law and ensuring whistleblowers benefit from the rights they have been promised. K-Monitor (a Coalition member) is aiming to lead the research into the implementation of the Act on Complaints and Public Interest Disclosures, while advocating for still-needed reforms of current regulations.

Additionally, K-Monitor has teamed with Átlátszó.hu and Transparency International Hungary to establish an alliance to provide legal, financial and psychological help for whistleblowers in Hungary. BEVÉD sheds light on the misuse of power by helping whistleblowers publish and pass on their evidence and documentation to the proper authorities and outlets.

BEVÉD also works to obtain legal help for whistleblowers if they suffer retaliation, and raise funds to provide financial help for whistleblowers so they can stay afloat during their legal cases.


Kosovo: Effort to Improve Weak Whistleblower Law

A group of NGOs and activists in Kosovo, including FOL Movement and joined by Blueprint for Free Speech (both Coalition members) is developing proposed amendments to the Law on Protection of Informants. Passed in 2011, the law includes several adequate provisions but has been criticized for its loopholes and poor implementation by government institutions. The law is vague regarding retaliation protection mechanisms, how reports should be made, and where reports should be made if an employee’s superior is involved with wrongdoing.

A 2013 study by FOL Movement found low levels of awareness and enforcement of the law in the public and private sectors, a lack of officials appointed to deal with misconduct, and a fear of reprisals by managers.


Macedonia: Time to Uphold New Whistleblower Rights

After a lengthy debate, Macedonia’s Assembly passed a whistleblower protection law in November 2015. Attention has now turned to making sure that employees and citizens will benefit from the rights and protections enshrined in the Law on Whistleblowers’ Protection. So far, the process is not off to an auspicious start.

As of the end of October 2016, no government agencies have been set up to enforce the new law, nor have any external reporting channels for whistleblower been established. And, with the Assembly having been dissolved in October, there are doubts that the government will be able to implement recommendations  presented by the Venice Commission to improve whistleblower procedures.

Coalition member Transparency International Macedonia has met with numerous government officials and is continuing to push authorities to properly and efficiently implement the law for the benefit of whistleblowers.


Moldova: New Whistleblower Protections in the Works

The National Anticorruption Center is leading an effort to enact Moldova’s first comprehensive law to protect whistleblowers. The government agency began working on the project in early 2016 in cooperation with the UNDP and international experts. In 2013 Moldova passed a regulation to provide retaliation protection for public employees who report misconduct. The new project seeks to expand on this regulation.

Coalition members Anticorruption Alliance, Center for Analysis and Prevention of Corruption, and the Resource Center for Human Rights (CReDO) are leading the civil society campaign to strengthen whistleblower rights in Moldova.


Montenegro: Regional Event Highlights NGO’s Campaign

The Center for Development of Non-Governmental Organizations a Coalition member, hosted a regional conference in Podgorica in March 2016 to release a major new report on whistleblower protection. Among the speakers were Coalition member Bojan Bajić of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The report includes chapters by Radomirović and Coalition co-coordinator Mark Worth of Blueprint for Free Speech.

The Center is actively monitoring the whistleblower provisions of Montenegro’s new anti-corruption law to help ensure whistleblowers receive the legal rights, protections and remedies to which they are entitled.


Romania: NGO Supports Coalition with Fundraising

The Romanian Academic Society, a Coalition member, has received financial support from the US-based National Endowment for Democracy to support the Coalition’s work through May 2017. The funding will support a wide range campaigns, journalistic investigations, research, outreach and events within the Coalition’s 10 core countries. The Coalition thanks the Romanian Academic Society for its support and partnership.

 

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