US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday presented the US State Department’s 2020 report on human rights.
Blinken noted that some governments have used the pandemic to restrict rights and “consolidate authoritarianism”.
Exit News brings a summary of the report on Albania for 2020.
It opens with the killing of 25-year-old Klodian Rasha by a police officer after he had violated the pandemic curfew
The report references allegations of abuse of prisoners or detainees by law enforcement officials.
“While the constitution and law prohibit such actions, there were allegations that police and prison guards sometimes beat and abused suspects and prisoners, usually in police stations,” the report states.
Impunity for police misconduct remained a problem, although the government made greater efforts to address it by increasing the use of camera evidence to document and prosecute police misconduct.
Related to police violence against protesters, it says that the Ombudsman received several complaints of excessive use of force and injuries from tear gas, and referred one case for prosecution.
Protests in the aftermath of the National Theater demolition on May 17 by the government resulted in 64 arrests, on charges of disobeying law enforcement and violating pandemic restrictions.
Corruption continued to be a serious problem in detention centers, and courts were sensitive to corruption, inefficiency, intimidation and political interference.
“These factors undermined the judiciary’s authority, contributed to controversial court decisions and led to inconsistent application of civil law.”
Freedom of expression and media freedom
There were efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including by threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption.
Business owners freely used their media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses.
There were credible reports of senior media representatives using media outlets to blackmail businesses by threatening unfavorable, sometimes factual and sometimes speculative, media coverage.
Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Economic insecurity due to a lack of enforceable labor contracts reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting.
Regarding the so-called anti-defamation law, it states that journalists and NGOs oppose it but the Socialist majority still passed it in parliament.
On the issue of abuse of migrants, it highlights the deportation of Turkish citizen Harun Celik on January 1st, an alleged follower of religious leader Fethullah Gulen who is accused of masterminding the July 2016 military coup in Turkey.
Celik was arrested in 2019 at the Tirana airport for attempting to travel on a forged Canadian visa. After serving his prison sentence, the Albanian government expelled him from the country and placed him on a flight to Turkey, despite assertions that Celik had requested asylum.
The UN bodies opened an inquiry into the case, including the question of whether or not this was a case of refoulement – forcible return of an asylum seeker to where he may be persecuted.
The Turkish government continues to press for the extradition of another asylum seeker, as well as others allegedly connected to the Gulen movement.
Related to immigrants in Albania, according to UNHCR statistics, approximately 700 persons at risk of statelessness were identified under the agency’s statelessness mandate by November.
The government does not have data regarding the total number of stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country.
The report draws attention to the OSCE’s stance on the 2017 parliamentary elections, which noted “the continuing politicization of election-related bodies and institutions, as well as widespread allegations of vote-buying and voter pressure removed by public confidence in the electoral process ”.
Regarding voting, the report cites the OSCE mission’s report, which noted that “important procedures were not fully complied with in a significant number of polling stations observed.”
Elections and Political Participation
The report says that “the media outlets reported allegations of using public resources for partisan campaign purposes in the 2017 parliamentary and 2019 local parliamentary elections.”
Regarding voting, the OSCE further noted the “continued politicization of election-related bodies and institutions as well as widespread allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters detracted from public trust in the electoral process.
There were reports of unfair political influence on the media. “There were also reports of limited access to voting for people with disabilities,” the report said.
The report adds that the law also “prohibits individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions, but the government did not enforce the law effectively.”
“Examples include a candidate for mayor in 2019 previously convicted of drug trafficking,” says the report.
It stated that corruption in Albania is “widespread in all branches of government, and officials were often involved in corrupt practices with impunity.”