The commissioner for the protection from discrimination did not receive any new cases of religious discrimination but issued decisions for two cases from 2014. In one decision issued in January, the commissioner ruled in favor of a 16-year-old Muslim girl who said she had been denied the right to attend public school by the school’s principal after she began to wear a headscarf. Although there was no legal prohibition against religious clothing in schools, principals maintained the right to set standards for “appropriate clothing,” which in some instances included restrictions on public displays of religious symbols. The commissioner determined the ban constituted discrimination and asked the Ministry of Education and Sports to rescind it. The ministry appealed the decision to the Tirana First Instance Administrative Court. The court upheld the commissioner’s decision, and the student returned to school in April.
In the other decision, involving a district prosecutor at the Dibra District Prosecutor's Office who alleged the general prosecutor at that office had transferred him because of his religious beliefs, the commissioner dismissed the case after the plaintiff decided not to pursue his complaint.
Religious groups reported there was slow progress on their claims for restitution or return of property seized during the communist era. Groups blamed this in part on government corruption and legal complexities stemming from the country’s communist past – in particular competing title claims. There were no reports of the government returning properties to any religious community, which the communities generally preferred over financial compensation. The government agreed to compensate the Albanian Islamic Community (AIC) for four properties – one in Korca and three in Tirana. Religious communities reported that since the fall of the previous communist regime, they had submitted well over 1,000 claims to the Agency for the Restitution and Compensation of Property, and the vast majority of these remained unresolved.
In August the local Urban Building Inspectorate demolished a building in Dhermi local parishioners stated was an Orthodox church. According to authorities, the church had been built illegally on the site where a 17th-century church had previously existed, and the location was an important cultural heritage site for the country. The event led to public debate with the Greek government over how the situation was handled and several politicians openly expressed their objections to Greek interference in what they considered an internal matter. On this and other occasions, some politicians told the media they were wary of what they perceived to be Greek influence over the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania and they made a point to highlight the country’s Orthodox Christians were Albanian and not Greek. In October at the request of the Greek-minority Union for Human Rights Party, Prime Minister Edi Rama delivered testimony on the August demolition, where he defended the actions of the authorities. The Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania continued to protest the demolition.
Some religious groups said disputes over property ownership and problems in tracking or registering land ownership made it difficult to acquire new land to build places of worship. VUSH members rented existing buildings, but reported difficulties acquiring land and constructing their own buildings impeded their ability to hold religious services. Only 10 percent of VUSH congregations owned their own places of worship; the rest rented existing buildings.
In May during the visit of the Turkish president, the AIC inaugurated a new central mosque in Tirana on land previously returned to the AIC through the restitution process. The Turkish government funded the mosque construction.
In September the Bektashi community inaugurated its world headquarters in Tirana to serve as a central place of worship, a multipurpose center, and the seat of the global Bektashi community. The government assisted in financing the construction. The Bektashi were also constructing or restoring several places of worship in Korca, Permet, Gjirokaster, and Elbasan. Property disputes with the government delayed progress.
The government continued financial support for the Catholic, Sunni Muslim, Orthodox, and Bektashi communities, according to representatives of these groups. Financial support for these four groups remained the same as the previous year at 109 million lek ($868,250), divided four ways among them, with the Muslim Community receiving a slightly larger share.
The government still did not provide financial support to the VUSH despite their bilateral agreement, as the government had not amended the original law providing for financial support to these groups to include the VUSH or drafted a separate law. In addition, the VUSH stated its churches faced problems over tax payment requirements despite an exemption granted by the law. According to the VUSH, the government froze some of its churches’ bank accounts for lack of payment. The VUSH made several requests to the Ministries of Finance and Social Welfare and Youth to discuss these issues, but as of December neither ministry had met with them.
Catholic, Orthodox, and Bektashi representatives all continued to maintain their numbers were underrepresented in the 2011 official census and that undercounting their adherents portrayed an inaccurate picture of the religious demographics of the country.