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'Matter of national security': Call to act on cyber violence against women after suicides in Albania

The TikTok logo is displayed on a smartphone screen, Sept. 28, 2020, in Tokyo, Japan.
The TikTok logo is displayed on a smartphone screen, Sept. 28, 2020, in Tokyo, Japan. Copyright Kiichiro Sato/AP Photo, File
Copyright Kiichiro Sato/AP Photo, File
By Anna Desmarais
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An Albanian women’s group is asking the government to criminalise cyber violence against women after two were pushed to suicide so far this year.

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An Albanian organisation is demanding the government criminalise cyber violence against women in the wake of another woman’s suicide over leaked photos on social media.

A 27-year-old woman killed herself this month after a TikTok influencer she was seeing blackmailed her and published her explicit photos on the app, according to local media.

The man accused of leaking the photos, Tiktoker Altin Çoku, was arrested and charged by the Court of Tirana with "causing suicide". 

He made his first court appearance last Thursday. Euronews Next has reached out to TikTok for comment.

This recent case in Albania is the second death in the country this year caused by a leak of intimate pictures on social media.

Anita Lushi, coordinator of the Albanian Women’s Empowerment Network (AWEN), told Euronews Next that this is a growing form of gender-based violence that needs to be addressed by all levels of government.

"This is a matter of emergency and national security, that women are being pushed towards suicide," Lushi said.

"Digital image-based abuse has reached a peak point where we cannot stand it anymore and be observers".

Although Lushi says this is a growing trend, she acknowledged there’s no data so far for how many women have killed themselves in Albania due to any kind of cyber violence. 

Her team at AWEN are launching what she says is the first comprehensive study of the issue, with results expected later this year.

Their goal is to eventually use their findings to draft a law that will specifically criminalise online acts of violence against women.

"[Albania is] in the process of revising the penal code, so this would be the most important… act that the government should take right now," Lushi said, as the law doesn’t currently refer to digital image-based abuse or revenge porn.

Combatting online misogyny

Albanian prime minister Edi Rama met with TikTok officials on the sides of the Munich Security Conference last Friday to talk about the recent deaths in his country.

He told officials from the social media giant that they discussed "the need to increase vigilance against violence, blackmail and hate speech online," according to a Facebook post.

Albania is a signatory country to the Istanbul Convention, which aims to fight and prevent violence against women. However, the convention doesn’t specifically address any form of cyberattacks.

Earlier this month, the European Commission approved a new directive to combat online misogyny that criminalises all forms of cyber violence against women, including the "non-consensual sharing of intimate images (including deepfakes)".

"Today’s proposal… brings a major change in an online world by criminalising certain forms of cyber-violence," Věra Jourová, the Commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, said in a press release.

"Non-consensual sharing of intimate images, including AI-generated ones, may lead to mental health issues and even to suicides in extreme cases… this directive would ensure that the authors of such a coward behaviour don’t go unpunished," she added.

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While Albania isn’t a member of the EU, the Balkan state is a candidate country and, Lushi said, they generally adopt EU directives to bring them closer to membership.

So, she continued, this new EU directive will be "helpful" in shaping Albania’s stance on cyber violence against women.

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