The Republic of Albania is a parliamentary democracy. The constitution vests legislative authority in the unicameral parliament (Assembly), which elects both the prime minister and the president. The prime minister heads the government, while the president has limited executive power. In June 2017, the country held parliamentary elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported the elections respected fundamental freedoms but were marred by allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included pervasive corruption in all branches of government.
Impunity remained a problem. Prosecution, and especially conviction, of officials who committed abuses was sporadic and inconsistent. Officials, politicians, judges, and persons with powerful business interests often were able to avoid prosecution. In response, authorities have undertaken an internationally monitored vetting of judges and prosecutors, and have dismissed a significant number of officials for unexplained wealth or ties to organized crime. Authorities also undertook technical measures, such as allowing electronic payment of traffic fines and use of body cameras, to improve police accountability and punished some lower-level officials for abuses.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. There were reports that the government, business, and criminal groups sought to influence the media in inappropriate ways.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of viewpoints, although 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 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. 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. The Albanian Journalists Union continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at most media outlets, in some instances of up to 10 months. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income, leading to questions of integrity.
NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for some of the estimated 700-plus news portals in the country, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial or political interests. The dramatic growth in online media outlets provided a diversity of views.
In its annual Media Sustainability Index (MSI), the International Research and Exchanges Board indicated that free speech, plurality of news sources, and supporting institutions experienced a slight increase, but professionalism and business management decreased. Economic crisis and management practices in Albanian media have reduced finances and the quality of reporting in media outlets. The MSI noted that strain on media finances has led to cutbacks in newsrooms and has fostered self-censorship.
The independence of the Audiovisual Media Authority, the regulator of the broadcast media market, remained questionable, but the role of the authority remained limited.
Violence and Harassment: There were multiple reports of violence and intimidation against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure.
On August 30, an unknown assailant shot 10 times at the home of crime reporter Klodiana Lala’s parents. No injuries were reported, but Lala’s two daughters were in the home at the time of the attack. Lala often reported on organized crime and law enforcement matters, including judicial reform. In a Facebook post after the attack, Lala stated she believed the attack was linked to her reporting. Police were investigating the attack.
In September the chair of the Union of Albanian Journalists stated that 12 journalists had filed asylum requests in EU member states, citing threats due to their jobs.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment and as a response to pressure from publishers and editors seeking to advance their political and economic interests. A 2015 survey by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) Albania, an organization that focuses on investigative journalism, found that large commercial companies and important advertisers were key sources of pressure. A study published by the Union of Albanian Journalists in April cited censorship and self-censorship as leading problems for journalists.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines, which could be as much as three million leks ($27,800), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant’s criminal record, undermined freedom of expression. In April the Union of Albanian Journalists expressed concern that during the first four months of the year, judges and politicians had initiated 14 lawsuits against journalists.
In 2017 a member of the High Council of Justice, Gjin Gjoni, filed defamation lawsuits against two BIRN journalists and two journalists of the daily Shqiptarja.com for their coverage of his asset declaration, which prosecutors were investigating. Gjoni was seeking seven million leks ($64,800) from BIRN and four million leks ($37,000) from Shqiptarja.com, claiming the stories damaged his reputation. After several hearings, the court ruled in March to drop the Shqiptarja case because Gjoni and his lawyers had failed to appear at five of the 11 hearings. In June the court dismissed the case against BIRN. Gjoni appealed both decisions and the cases are pending.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
The Authority for Electronic and Postal Communications decreed on October 15 that 44 media web portals had 72 hours to obtain a tax identification number and publish it on their web pages or the government would shut them down. The list included several investigative news sites, including BIRN. At year’s end, the government had not shut down noncompliant portals.
According to March data from Internet World Stats, approximately 66 percent of the population used the internet.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government. The law prohibits individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions.
The constitution requires judges and prosecutors to undergo vetting for unexplained wealth, ties to organized crime, and professional proficiency. Vetting was conducted by the Independent Qualification Commission, and appeals were heard by an appeals chamber. The process was overseen by the International Monitoring Operation, which was composed of international judicial experts from the United States and the EU. As of October 24, the commission had dismissed 25 judges and prosecutors and confirmed 28, while 16 others had resigned from duty rather than undergo vetting.
A number of government agencies investigated corruption cases, but limited resources, investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered investigations. In selective instances involving international actors, anticorruption agencies cooperated with civil society.
Corruption: Between January and June, the prosecutor general’s office registered 83 new corruption investigations. During the same period, 29 individuals were convicted on corruption charges, and trials began against an additional 28 individuals. . Through August, 19,295 complaints had been submitted to authorities through the online portal stopkorruption.al, 1,396 of which contained information on alleged corrupt practices. A former interior minister remained under investigation for ties to organized crime and abuse of office.
While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low-level public corruption cases, including corrupt prosecutors and judges, prosecution of higher-level crimes remained rare due to investigators’ fear of retribution, a general lack of resources, and corruption within the judiciary itself.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to disclose their assets to the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest (HIDAACI), which monitored and verified such disclosures and made them available to the public. The law authorizes HIDAACI to fine officials who fail to comply with disclosure requirements or refer them to the prosecutor.
HIDAACI reported that through August it had referred 25 new cases for prosecution involving six Assembly members, one deputy minister, one mayor, six tax inspectors, six customs officials, and 11 other government officials on charges including refusing to declare, hiding, or falsifying asset declarations, money laundering, falsification of documents, and corruption. In 2017 HIDAACI fined 296 individuals for not disclosing their assets or conflicts of interest or for violating the law on whistleblower protection.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime. Penalties for rape and assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the prison term is three to 10 years. The law includes provisions on sexual assault and criminalizes spousal rape. The government did not enforce the law effectively, and officials did not prosecute spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.
In spite of legal protections for victims, abuses and allegations of political cover-up still occurred. For example, Xhisiela Maloku alleged that Rexhep Rraja, her boyfriend and son of Socialist Party Assembly member Rrahman Rraja, had burned and kicked her in a hotel on July 19. Forensic experts verified the nature of the wounds. Maloku later claimed she fabricated the allegations because she was jealous, but members of the opposition Democratic Party asserted Rrahman Rraja had pressured police to force Maloku to recant, citing claims by former police officer Emiliano Nuhu. The opposition also alleged the police covered up Rexhep Rraja’s sexual assault of Maloku. The judge in the case approved the prosecutor’s request to proceed to trial. Rexhep Rraja is in pretrial detention.
On July 23, the Assembly amended the law on domestic violence to extend protection to victims in an active relationship or civil union. The amendments created a protective order that automatically protects children as well.
Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. For example, in August 2017, Judge Fildez Kasemi was fatally shot by her ex-husband in Shkoder, even as she was seeking a protection order for abuse. As of December, the ex-husband, Fadil Kasemi, was on trial for murder.
A 2017 UN Development Program (UNDP) and state statistical agency (INSTAT) report estimated that more than 53 percent of women and girls in the country had been victims of domestic violence during the previous year and stated that more than 60 percent reported they had been victims of violence at some point in their lives. Police often did not have the training or capacity to deal effectively with domestic violence cases.
The government operated one shelter to protect survivors of domestic violence and three shelters for victims of human trafficking that accommodated victims of domestic violence as well.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, although officials rarely enforced it. The commissioner for protection against discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment and could impose fines of up to 80,000 leks ($741) against individuals or 600,000 leks ($5,550) against enterprises.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or forced sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Women were under-represented in many fields at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms subordinating women to men.
There were reports of discrimination in employment. In one case, a 55-year-old woman complained in May to the Commission for Protection against Discrimination (CPD), alleging the Vlora prison director fired her because of her age and gender. The CPD ruled in August the woman had been subjected to discrimination based on gender but not on age, recommended the prison rescind her dismissal, and hire her back. The prison did not hire her back, so the CPD imposed a fine.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to INSTAT, the ratio of boys to girls at birth in 2017 was 109 to 100. There were no government-supported efforts to address the imbalance.
Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship by birth in the country or from a citizen parent. There were no reports of discrimination in birth registration, but onerous residency and documentation requirements for registration made it more difficult for the many Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents who lacked legally documented places of residence to register their children.
Children born to internal migrants, including some Romani families, or those returning from abroad frequently had no birth certificates or other legal documents and consequently were unable to attend school or have access to services.
Education: School attendance is mandatory through the ninth grade or until the age of 16, whichever occurs first, but many children, particularly in rural areas, left school earlier to work with their families. Parents must purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and space heaters for some classrooms; these were prohibitively expensive for many families, particularly Roma and other minorities. Many families also cited these costs as a reason for not sending girls to school.
The government issued an order before the beginning of the academic year providing that children from first to the fourth grade would receive free books if they returned them at the end of the school year. It was not clear whether parents would pay a fine if the books were returned damaged. Some NGOs expressed concern that this would place a greater burden on families receiving economic aid, especially in the Romani community.
Child Abuse: Observers believed that child abuse was increasing, especially in schools. According to a national survey taken in 2013, the last year for which data was made available, by the UNDP and INSTAT, 57.7 percent of children surveyed said they had experienced violence at some point in their lives from at least one family member. According to a 2017 report by World Vision, 70 percent of children in the country reported experiencing some type of violence. The definition of violence in both these surveys included psychological violence, and was not limited to physical abuse. Services for abuse victims were not readily available.
On September 23, the Council of Europe commissioner on human rights reported her concern about the high levels of physical and psychological violence against children, including in educational settings and at home.
Early and Forced Marriage: Although the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, authorities did not always enforce the law. Underage marriages occurred mostly in rural areas and within Romani communities. According to data released by the INSTAT, the number of early marriages (younger than the age of 19) decreased significantly in 2017 from 2016.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child range from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The country has a statutory rape law, and the minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for statutory rape is a prison term of five to 15 years. In aggravated circumstances, the penalty may increase to life imprisonment. The law prohibits making or distributing child pornography; penalties are a prison sentence of three to 10 years. Possession of child pornography is also illegal.
Authorities generally enforced laws against the rape and sexual exploitation of minors effectively, but NGOs reported that they rarely enforced laws prohibiting child pornography. The government reported that, as of July, three children had been sexually exploited, but there were no cases involving pornography.
Displaced Children: There were many displaced and street children, particularly in the Romani community. Street children begged or did petty work. These children were at highest risk of trafficking, and some became trafficking victims. Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children younger than 14 for burglary, criminal gangs at times used displaced children to burglarize homes.
The State Agency for the Protection of Children’s Rights reported that, as of June, authorities had assisted 109 street children. Some 67 children were referred to shelters. CPUs reported 422 cases of economic exploitation of children through June.
Institutionalized Children: UNHCR considered the migrant detention facility in Karrec to be unsuitable for children and families. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, sending them instead to the open migrant facility in Babrru.
According to a September report from the Council of Europe commissioner on human rights, approximately 700 children lived in public and private residential care institutions, some of them for long periods, without a clear prospect for leaving the institution before they became adults.
Some NGOs raised concerns about the transparency of the treatment of children who were under state residential care. Media outlets reported several instances of teachers physically abusing children in state residential institutions, and several incidents were filmed and broadcast. In one case, a news broadcast aired a video of staff of the Vlora residential center abusing children. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection fired the staff members involved and referred the case for prosecution.
The law allows for moving children out of residential centers and into the care of foster families, but the government and the municipalities have not used this option frequently.
The country lacked adequate facilities for pretrial detention of children. According to the NGO Terre des Hommes, as of July, 17 children were in pretrial detention and nine were incarcerated.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
Reports indicate that there were only 40 to 50 Jews living in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Nevertheless, employers, schools, health-care providers, and providers of other state services at times engaged in discrimination. The law mandates that new public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government only sporadically enforced the law. During the year, the government adapted the premises of 80 health care facilities and 32 schools, and built eight new schools, to accommodate persons with disabilities.
The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies traditionally lacked funding to implement their programs adequately. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were located in facilities lacking accommodations for such persons.
The government opened two new development centers for persons with disabilities in Pogradec and Bulqiza, supported by the UNDP, and three day-care centers for children with disabilities in Pogradec, Saranda, and Permet.
The Office of the Ombudsman inspected only a few mental health institutions. Both the admission and release of patients at mental health institutions were problematic due to inadequate psychiatric evaluations. There was societal discrimination and stigmatization of persons with mental and other disabilities.
There were allegations of discrimination against members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. Some schools resisted accepting Romani and Balkan-Egyptian students, particularly if they appeared to be poor. Many schools that accepted Romani students marginalized them in the classroom, sometimes by physically setting them apart from other students.
The Municipality of Tirana transferred 76 Romani families evicted from the Bregu i Lumit neighborhood to permanent housing in the final week of December 2017. Unemployment remained a problem and resulted in some of these families’ failure to pay utility bills.
In October 2017, the government adopted legislation on minorities, but the Assembly has not passed implementing legislation and regulations. The law provides official minority status for nine national minorities without distinguishing between national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, Aromanians (Vlachs), Roma, Balkan-Egyptians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbs, and Bulgarians as national minorities. The new legislation provides minority language education and dual official language use for local administrative units in which minorities traditionally reside, or in which a minority makes up 20 percent of the total population. The ethnic Greek minority complained about the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek communities outside communist-era “minority zones.”
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Enforcement of the law was generally weak. Early in the year, the Assembly amended the law on social housing to include members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community as beneficiaries under the law. Debate over the bill in the Assembly was marred by homophobic remarks by some members. In 2017 the Assembly adopted two amendments concerning free legal aid and sports participation that also benefited the LGBTI community.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are among the classes protected by the country’s hate-crime law. Despite the law and the government’s formal support for LGBTI rights, public officials sometimes made homophobic statements. For example, a mufti in Librazhd posted an article in an online portal criticizing one of the LGBTI NGOs that organized antibullying classes in various schools, calling the NGO a “cancer.” The mufti asked education institutions to prevent members of the LGBTI community from entering schools. The CPD sent a letter to the Albanian Islamic Community urging it to help prevent this sort of attack from recurring. Social and traditional media criticized the antibullying campaign, instead accusing the LGBTI community of attempting to influence young people inappropriately.
As of September, Aleanca, an NGO advocating for the LGBTI community, documented 34 cases of physical violence against community members. In one case, police asked the victim, a transgender woman, to withdraw the report; two weeks later, the perpetrator attacked her again, sending her to the hospital. The NGO Streha reported that many young LGBTI individuals had experienced domestic violence upon coming out.
As of August, the CPD had received two complaints alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity during the year. The CPD ruled against the complainants in both cases.
The NGO PINK reported it had handled approximately 20 cases of LGBTI persons seeking asylum in other countries, citing domestic violence as the main reason.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. The Albanian Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS reported that discrimination and stigmatization of persons with HIV/AIDS was widespread in the country.