Despite the fact that officials from the Rama government constantly claim that the opposition is afraid of the justice reform, the legal initiatives passed by the Socialist majority show quite clearly who is afraid of both the justice reform and the growing civil discontent.
Whereas the opposition MPs have vacated their parliamentary mandates are no more than common citizens at this moment, the Socialist majority passed February a far-reaching law, basically guaranteeing the immunity of any Member of Parliament from investigations by the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecution Office that are deemed “destabilizing.” Of course, Parliament reserves the right for itself to decide what that means.
The new amendments to the Penal Code, which will be discussed tomorrow in Parliament, serve to further protect the status of politicians by considerably increasing the penalties for art. 237 “assault because of duty.” This article is special provision that is left over from the legal system during the communist dictatorship, and is often used against protestors. It is typical for Prime Minister Edi Rama’s increasingly authoritarian and erratic leadership style that he now attempt to mobilize the forces of the law against those lawfully protesting him.
The amendments will add “when an act is directed to elected persons or public functionaries” to art. 50 on “aggravating circumstances.” This means that any crime committed against a politician is by definition worse simply because its target has been a politician. Just this amendment introduces a distinct class difference in Albania: politicians and government officials against the population.
The amendments will also considerably strengthen art. 237 “assault because of duty” by removing the fine and considerably increasing the prison terms. This is the current definition of art. 237:
Article 237: Assault because of duty
Assault or other violent acts committed against an official acting in the execution of a state duty or public service, because of his state activity or service, are punishable by a fine or up to three years of imprisonment.
The amendments proposed by the Socialist Party are as follows:
Article 237: Assault because of duty
Assault or other violent acts committed against an official acting in the execution of a state duty or public service, because of his state activity or service, are punishable by one to three years of imprisonment.
When the act is committed against an elected person or public functionary, because of his activity, it is punished with one to three years of imprisonment.
When the act is committed against a police officer because of his activity and when the attributes of the person are visible or known, it is punished with one to five years of imprisonment.
When the act is committed against a healthcare professional because of his activity and when the attributes of the person are visible or known, it is punished with one to five years of imprisonment.
When the act is committed in the environment of the institution in which the person exercises his state duty, public function, or public service, it is punished with three to five years of imprisonment.
With these amendments, article 237 will become even more powerful than its original formulation under the communist regime. It should be pointed out that no other EU country offer similar “special” protection to its state officials.
In one of the reports attached to the amendments, MPs Niko Peleshi and Besnik Baraj argue as follows:
The proposers of the draft law express that the necessity for the amendments to the Penal Code for several issues, such as breach of the peace and order (assault of the police), […] violence against public officials or elected persons, has resulted from the events of the last months where the violent incidents against doctors, those in sports games, assault against the police or violent acts against deputies and other elected persons have been frequent, while the current provisions in the Penal Code turn out not to guarantee the prevention of violent acts.
This is nonsense. First of all, the Penal Code does not exist to “prevent violent acts.” The Penal Code exists to punish crime. The punishment is supposed to have a preventative effect on society, but we all know that there is only scant scientific basis for such claims. The new amendments will not “prevent” further, legitimate protests against the government.
Second, the current provisions in the Penal Code in principle treat all Albanian citizens equal before the law. Article 237 already creates a scandalous exception by making “officials” a special category, and should therefore be abolished. On the contrary, the legal amendments proposed by the Socialist Party only exacerbate this inequality.
By what principle are the bodies and lives of MPs and mayors more valuable than those of a regular citizen? By what principle is a crime against a police officer worse than a crime against a protestor? No principle except the politicians’ fear to lose their own position and power.
Third, the argument of MPs Beleshi and Baraj show clearly that this legal amendment is a direct response to the opposition protests over the last few months. These amendments are not the result of a careful legislative process, they have been drafted in haste. They do not aim to protect anyone, except the current ruling class and basically are an abuse of the legislative powers bestowed on Parliament by the Albanian people.
In their rather meager argumentation for the proposed amendments, the Socialist MPs mention that EURALIUS experts reviewed them. As EURALIUS refuses to release any of their legal opinions, we will never know how they feel about this unprecedented privilege granted to government officials, which no doubt will be used – by the current and future governments – to suppress any form of public discontent.