British journalist Lindsey Hilsum was hit by members of the Iranian opposition group known as Mujahedin e Khalq (MEK) living in a “fortified camp” nearby-Durres’ Manez village, on which she’d come to report on for Britain’s Channel 4, local media reported on Sunday.
According to Shqiptarja.com, Albanian authorities attempted to keep the Aug. 10 incident a secret from the public, although Prime Minister Edi Rama, Minister of Interior Fatmir Xhafaj, high police authorities and the British Embassy to Tirana were notified.
Hilsum and her producer Darius Bazargan were investigating and filming the 3,000 Mujahedin, whom Iran considers a terrorist group and whom Albania has been controversially hosting as refugees after the US removed MEK from its terrorist groups’ list in 2012, accompanied by an Albanian translator.
According to the testimony of an eye-witness, private police guarding the fortified camp where the MEK members are hiding attempted to take hold of the camera used to film, while some of the members hit Hilsum, who began to scream, until state police patrolling the area stopped them and took the foreigners at the police station, where they testified.
“They tried to take her camera and break it. The journalist panicked and began to scream, while they grabbed the man that was accompanying them by the neck,” the eye witness told Shqiptarja.com.
It is also reported Channel 4 will run the recordings of the MEK members in Albania in the following days, where the incident with Hilsum and her team will also be depicted.
After a request made by the Albanian media, a spokesperson for MEK said they have reason to doubt the British journalists are, in fact, in contact with the Iranian secret service, which they fear will attack the Mujahedin in their camp here in Albania, which was the only country that accepted to host them.
The MEK announcement said that no one had notified them of the journalists’ arrival and plans to film them and added that Albanian secret service had also requested them to stop filming and had been ignored.
According to the announcement, the violence reported is misinformation spread by Iranian secret agent Massoud Khodabandeh, who is allegedly in touch with the journalists.
It is unclear what further steps have been taken by the Albanian authorities after Hilsum’s testimony, but local media reports violence between MEK members and international journalists who have come to Albania to investigate on their lives here has occurred before.
Relations between Albania and Iran date back to the 19th and 20th century, when several Albanian Renaissance poets were inspired by Persian culture and Bektashism, an ultra-liberal mystical Muslim sect with roots in Sufism and Shia Islam that is also present in Albania, to promote Albanian independence.
However, relations between Albania and Iran in the past few years have been strained by Albania’s willingness to accept providing shelter to MEK, which had been on the list of terrorist organizations for several years by the United States.
Meanwhile, independent experts have raised serious question marks on MEK members presence in Albania, even more than the concerns already raised by their presence here as an ex-terrorist group that is still considered terrorist in many parts of the world.
According to earlier statements by MEK members, their stay in Albania will stretch until the end of Iran’s dictatorship, however experts have not excluded the possibility that MEK members may be building a base against Iran, during their stay in Albania.