From: Alice Taylor
Exit Explains: The Murder of Klodian Rasha and the Ongoing Protests

On Tuesday 8 December otherwise known as Youth Day, 25-year-old Klodian Rasha was killed by police in the Laprake neighbourhood of Tirana.

The police said he was out after curfew (which is in force between 10 pm and 6 am), and for refusing to obey orders and stop for them. They also said he was “committing suspect actions” without clarifying what those were. In addition to this, they said that he “ran away, pointing a hard object that looked like a firearm towards the police officer”.

One of the officers then shot him twice killing him instantly. It was then discovered that he was shot in the back, meaning he was running away when the shot was fired.

In their statement, the police said that a firearm believed to be belonging to Rasha was seized in one of the alleys that he ran through while being chased by the police. Rasha’s family have denied that he was carrying a firearm or even owned one and said that it was likely he was carrying persimmons.

The police officer was then arrested and is accused of homicide committed in excess of the necessary self-defense limits. The Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints clarified that the preliminary investigation was concluded and that the actions of the officer were contrary to standard procedures for the use of firearms.

In a statement on the 8th, the Democratic Party accused the government and its policies of being responsible for Rasha’s murder. They said the victim ran to escape the fine for violating curfew and did not pose a danger to the police. They also accused the State Police of trying to hide the truth and of “imprisoning, fining and killing citizens” instead of serving them.

On the 9th, Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj reacted to the murder via Facebook. He expressed his condolences to the family and asked that the prosection work to clarify the events. Lleshaj also said he was confident that the responsible legal bodies would “quickly, accurately, directly, and without any influence, finalize the investigations.”

President Ilir Meta also called for an objective and transparent investigation into the murder. 

Later that day, protests began in Tirana. They were organized via several prominent meme accounts on social media and were not publicized by any parties or political figures. Citizens gathered in front of the Ministry of the Interior to demand the resignation of Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj.

Despite heavy rain, tensions simmered and objects were thrown at the building. As a result, police intervened and there were a number of injuries reported. Protestors then made their way to the main Boulevard of Tirana, towards the Prime Minister’s Office. Protestors began calling for Prime Minister Edi Rama to resign as well.

As tensions continued to build, angry protestors set fire to the Christmas tree outside of Rama’s office. They also destroyed some Christmas decorations including reindeer figures. They continued to ask for Lleshaj’s resignation.

On the same day, protests also took place in Durres, the second biggest city in Albania. Citizens gathered in front of the Prosecutor’s Office and called for the resignation of Lleshaj and justice for Rasha. A small protest was also reported in the city of Kukes in the north of the country.

A woman claiming to be Rasha’s sister then spoke to the media from the protest in Tirana, stating that her brother had never had any issues with the police and did not carry a weapon. She said the police shot him directly and demanded justice for his murder. It was later reported that this woman was not, in fact, a member of the family, but was a friend.

The police then reported that nine officers were injured and taken to hospital where they received first aid. They continued to use tear gas and pepper spray to try and disperse the crowd from the Boulevard. Eventually, the protestors moved to Skanderbeg Square where they pelted the Interior Ministry with stones and set fire to the Christmas tree ad various other decorative objects. 

They then referred to protestors as “violent extremists” and said that their actions were “unfair” and could not be justified by the murder of Rasha. They threatened legal action against organizers, despite there not being any organizers.

On 10 December, the police upped the number of those injured to 16, despite reporting just 9 at the end of the previous day’s protest. Several journalists and citizens reported being hit, gassed, and injured by police during the protest.

In anticipation of further protests, the following day, police stationed armoured vehicles, police vans, and vehicles with water pumps, were placed near the Prime Minister’s Office. With the protest due to start at 18:00, Rama announced a press conference at the same time. The Opposition denounced this as propaganda and said that a speech could not save Rama from responsibility for the murder. 

Prior to the conference, citizens gathered in front of the Municipality building in Korce, demanding justice and Lleshaj’s resignation. They threw objects and the windows and set the Christmas tree on fire.

Then, during Rama’s conference, he announced that Lleshaj had tendered his resignation. He added that this didn’t mean Lleshaj had responsibility for the murder. Rama, who was in the US at the time, said he told the Minister to wait until he returns so it could be discussed face to face.

This did little to placate protestors and the demonstrations continued. Clashes between police and protestors continued and tear gas, pepper spray, and water cannons were used. Objects were thrown at the National Museum and the Socialist Party headquarters. Taulant Balla accused protestors of being organized by the President and the Opposition.

Protestors shouted “down with the dictatorship”, “down with communism”, and “Rama go”. Several wheelie bins were set on fire and various publicly owned items of property were broken and vandalized.

The Ministry of Health announced that five police and two protestors were injured in that day’s protests. Large areas of the center of Tirana were covered in debris and remnants of tear gas. Exit saw footage of police spraying cafes and those filming with pepper spray without provocation. Journalists on the ground described the violence against citizens as “unlike anything I’ve seen before”.

Ora News journalist Xhoi Malesia said he was arrested, detained, beaten, and forced to sign a statement he didn’t write, to be released. 

On the morning of Friday 12, it was announced that the policeman accused of the murder would remain in custody. 

Rama then accused the Opposition and President Meta of orchestrating the violence in the protests. He called them “the instigators” and “orchestrators” and accused them of doing it for political gain. This is even though there has been no political presence at the protests nor have any of those figures called for people to protest. He warned anyone protesting that they would face prison if they vandalized property.

Lulzim Basha then accused Rama of firing Lleshaj in order to protect himself.

In a statement on Friday afternoon, the US Ambassador Yuri Kim called on political parties to distance themselves from the “violence”. She also made a request for the Opposition to reject violence and “not make the mistakes of the past.”

Basha called for an end to police brutality against protestors and for the protection of their right to protest. He said he had spoken to several ambassadors in Tirana and called for justice for Rasha while condemning the “hate speech” used by Rama. Basha also drew attention to the fact that many of the protestors were minors and using violence on them was unacceptable.

The protests that night followed a similar template to the previous days. Protestors gathered in front of the Ministry of the Interior and the Prime Minister Office, calling for justice and demanding the resignation of General Director of the Police Ardi Veliu.

Police again used tear gas, pepper spray, and water cannons to disperse protestors, many of which ran through the streets of the Blloku area of the city. Again, there were many reports of police brutality, the gassing of journalists, and the mass arrest of protestors, including minors.

Rama said that Veliu would not resign and the police would not be taken hostage by “the politics of violence”. Again, there is no evidence that the protests are organized by any political party. He said the protests were “blackmail and violence against the police”, while not addressing the violence used against citizens.

Meanwhile, many were suggesting that the police were trying to cover up wrongdoing by saying that Rasha had a firearm. They accused the police and government of manipulating the truth to shift blame.

Then, on Saturday, protestors gathered for the fourth day of protests. By this time, more than 100 people had been arrested, including two journalists. The second being the editor of Koha Jone who had his phone seized, footage deleted, was assaulted, and also forced to sign a statement he didn’t write. There were more instances of vandalism as well as unnecessary use of tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons as police prowled the streets of the center.

Protests also took place in Shkoder, Pogradec, and Fier.

In Shkoder, a group of men in masks broke into the Socialist Party headquarters, emptied it, and set fire to the items in the street. Police didn’t arrive on the scene until up to 40 minutes later, after the crimes had been committed, despite being a six minute drive away. The police then filed charges against 48 people, including the Mayor of Shkodra Voltana Ademi for organizing the protests. Others claimed that the Socialist Party was responsible for the incident and had instructed police and fire services not to intervene.

Meanwhile, Lleshaj said that security cameras had managed to capture the murder of Rasha and that this proved the officer’s guilt. He added that the motives of the murder were not yet clear.

On the 5th day of protests in Tirana, other demonstrations took place in Lushnja, Pogradec, Cerrik, and Lezhe.

Protesters walked peacefully from the central square in Tirana to the Prime Minister’s Office building during the protest. Then they headed toward the Police Directorate but were stopped by riot police before entering the street. Some protesters threw stones at police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons, dispersing the crowd. Dozens of protesters were detained.

Protesters then walked toward the main square, followed closely by riot police and water cannons. When they tried to approach a Christmas tree defended by dozens of policemen, they were attacked with tear gas. Police ran after fleeing protesters and detained more of them.

Today’s protest was the most peaceful compared to the recent ones when protesters vandalized windows of public buildings, trash bins and road signs.

Asked about the vandalism during protests, one of the protesters told A2 CNN on live television that the damaging of windows, trash bins and road signs are not important, unlike the demolition of the National Theater and Tirana’s historic center to give way to high-rise buildings through corrupt procedures.

The Minister of Education, then announced that the minors involved in the protests would receive psychological treatment from the government. Minister Elisa Spiropali called protestors “thugs” and said the government would not negotiate with them. She also claimed there was evidence that they were paid to protest by opposition leaders who “threaten Albanian civilization.”

LSI said that the use of tear gas should be illegal and asked SPAK to investigate.

Meanwhile, the Albanian Ombudsman said that out of the 124 people detained between 9-10 December, 57 of them were children, some younger than 14.

Some of the detained claimed that they had no relation to the protests, whereas two minors have alleged that police pressured them into admitting that they had committed violent actions.

“All those arrested were interrogated regarding the actions committed during the protest. Some of them claimed that they participated in the protest, but did not commit violent acts. Others claimed that they happened to have been passing by and did not participate in the protest. Two minors, when asked whether an attorney or a psychiatrist was present during the interrogation, responded that they were only interrogated by a police officer, who pressured them to admit they had committed violent acts,” the report found.

The site also presented a letter, allegedly from the Rasha family. They wrote that the protests were not any comfort for their loss and that they were in fact, making it worse. They said that they were “close” to the policeman whose eye had been injured during the protests and called for people not to be “manipulated by politics”.

The letter was immediately called out on social media and various portals who noted the unusual language used in it and the formal way it was written. 

Another letter was widely shared on social media, allegedly written by a six-year-old and addressed to Rama. It asked “Uncle Edi” for the return of the Christmas trees that were damaged during the protests. Again, it was widely criticized for the neat writing and the fact it appeared similar in tone and style to one sent to Italian Prime Minister Conte, some days before. The letter was then deleted from Dritare where it had been originally posted.

Today, police made a number of arrests. Four arrests were made in Tirana and 46 others were investigated. They are charged with “Organizing and participating in illegal gatherings and demonstrations”, “Opposing a public order police officer”, “Obstructing the circulation of vehicles”, “Breaking public order”, “Destroying property”, ” Disobedience to the order of a public order police officer ”and“ Possession and use of explosives and pyrotechnics”.

Police in Bulqize have also launched an investigation into 10 people following protests in the city.