Yesterday, Down Syndrome Albania Foundation along with a number of activists and citizens held a process outside of Parliament in Tirana.
They gathered to protest against the deputy speaker of Parliament and ex-Democratic Party (PD) Deputy for Lushnje, Myslim Murrizi who caused a controversy when he used Down Syndrome as an insult against a member of the public. In a Facebook comment, Murrizi said:
“Is that how you understand it, you intellectual? Why don’t you drop dead! You think this godmother is the problem or Rama, Damian [Gjiknuri], [Ilir] Beqaj, [Agim] Kajmaku, and Valdrin [Pjetri]? Get away, it makes me sick to see a Down’s [person with Down Syndrome] comment on my Facebook profile.”
Murrizi issued an apology to “everyone I have insulted” but failed to take responsibility, to rescind his words, or to speak out in support of the Down’s Syndrome community or those that work tirelessly with them. The Down Syndrome Albania Foundation is demanding his resignation due to his use of hate speech.
Slogans printed on placards at the event included “Free speech is not hate speech”, “Apologise and resign, fight your ignorance” and “Down Syndrome is not a disease” amongst others.
Emanuela Pepkola Zaimi who heads the Down Syndrome Albania Foundation said in a statement that: “we consider that the language used by the MP is a harmful practice towards the community of people with disabilities and specifically those with Down syndrome and their families as it promotes discrimination, hatred, promotes stereotypes and affects their and their family’s dignity.”
Murrizi was elected as Deputy of Lushnje in the 2017 elections but was expelled from the PD for failing to resign his mandate following the PD’s boycott of parliament.
The definition of ‘hate speech’ is “abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a person or group of people based on their race, religion, gender, sex, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation.” Under the Council of Europe definition, of which Albania is a member, such actions “pose grave dangers for the cohesion of a democratic society, the protection of human rights and the rule of law”.
The CoE suggests that non-compliance with laws on hate speech should be dealt with through the implementation of sanctions and the adoption of codes of conduct.
Hate speech is a crime in Albania, yet prosecutions are rare as police and prosecutors repeatedly fail to take such matters seriously. Hate speech against women, journalists, LGBTI+ individuals, ethnic minorities, and those with disabilities are common place, particularly on social media, yet action is rarely taken and justice hardly ever served.