The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion. It stipulates there is no official religion, says the state is neutral in matters of belief, recognizes the equality and independence of religious groups, and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government has agreements with the Sunni Muslim and Bektashi communities, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the Evangelical Brotherhood of Albania (VUSH), a Protestant umbrella organization, pertaining to recognition, property restitution, and other arrangements. The law stipulates the government will give financial support to faith communities, but the government’s agreement with the VUSH under the law does not specifically designate it to receive such funding. The government legalized 41 mosques during the year, compared with 137 in the previous year, six in 2015, and reportedly none in 2014. Religious groups reported the Agency for the Treatment of Property (ATP) did not process any claims for restitution of property seized during the communist era and approved only one claim for compensation. The ATP stated hundreds of claims awaited amendment of the property law provisions before they could be resolved. VUSH leaders continued to report difficulties in acquiring land to construct places of worship and problems concerning tax payments. President Ilir Meta granted citizenship to Archbishop Anastasios of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church, stating that he “had reinvigorated the Church after communism.” Between January and May, the government trained 29 teachers at 15 schools as part of a pilot educational program to help prevent radicalization and promote religious tolerance; however, implementation of the full program stalled in May and its future appeared uncertain. The parliament passed a law on the rights and freedoms of national minorities.
The Interreligious Council, a forum for the country’s religious leaders to discuss shared concerns, met three times during the year in contrast to the previous year when it did not meet at all. The Albanian Islamic Community (AIC) was subjected to criticism on social media for a perceived insult to the country’s medieval hero Skanderbeg at its Eid al-Adha celebration.
U.S. embassy officers continued to urge government officials to accelerate the religious property claims process and return to religious groups the buildings and other property confiscated from them during the communist era. Embassy youth education programs continued to focus on religious diversity. Other embassy sponsored programs focused on promoting women’s empowerment in religious communities and the compatibility of religious faith and democracy. The embassy also continued its work with religious communities to discourage the appeal among youth of violent extremism related to religion. The embassy sponsored the participation of two individuals, including a diversity specialist in the state police, in an exchange program designed to raise awareness and acceptance of human and civil rights for groups including religious minority communities. The embassy also sponsored the rector of Beder University for an exchange visit to the United States with a focus on religious tolerance.