The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Albania for illegally imprisoning a man who was mentally ill.
The Court ruled in favour of Arben Strazimiri and awarded him EUR 15,000 in compensation after he was held in a prison hospital since 2008 following a court order for mandatory treatment for mental illness. It was decided that Strazimiri had suffered inhuman and degrading treatment due to substandard living conditions. The court also ruled that he had received inadequate psychiatric care that involved the use of psychotropic drugs rather than therapy.
The ruling added that Strazimiri had been subjected to “continued deprivation of liberty in a prison, rather than a medical institution.”
Strazimiri was arrested in 2008 for premeditated murder but the courts found that he could not be held accountable under criminal law as he was a paranoid schizophrenic. From then onwards, he was held at Tirana’s Prison Hospital as there is no adequate healthcare facility for those that require compulsory treatment.
This was reflected in the judgement published on the ECHR website which called out the Albanian authorities for their “longstanding failure” to set up a special medical institution for mentally ill individuals who are deprived of their liberty on the strength of the court-ordered compulsory treatment.
“That was in breach of its domestic statutory obligations, and pointed to a structural problem,” it added.
The Court also found that the hospital is in “an advanced state of dilapidation” without any central heating and with only one psychiatrist for a total of 84 patients.
Albania has been repeatedly criticised for the way in which it detains prisoners and those with mental health issues. Just last year, the Helsinki Committee asked the government to close down the Zaharia Prison (the country’s only prison hospital” as a matter of urgency.
The Council of Europe also observed that psychiatric patients at the hospital were “held for many years under unacceptable conditions and with insufficient psychiatric care”. The authorities were told to “redouble their efforts” to improve the quality of life and care for inmates as well as to provide adequate training for staff.
Across the board failings in the humane treatment of prisoners in Albania were observed and little progress has been made despite repeated warnings and calls for change, according to the CoE report.