Police car in Albania (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
According to the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC), Albanian authorities unlawfully repressed anti-government protesters in the past week’s demonstrations. Thousands of people demonstrated in various Albanian cities against rising costs – as fuel prices went up drastically with 40% following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Fuel prices rose to around two euros per liter, while the average monthly salary in the country is only 490 euros.
Albanian police arrested and prosecuted around 200 people for holding “illegal gatherings” and “opposing police forces”. Reportedly, many irregularities appeared in the official police documentation – some arrests were not even documented. Furthermore, several protesters were injured by police forces. The AHC has pointed out that this violates Albanian and European human rights law. Eventually, the Albanian High Court acquitted some protesters, forcing authorities to release them from detention.
Besides, the International Press Institute (IPI) reported that two journalists were assaulted by state authorities during protests. Allegedly, police forces in plain clothes injured journalists in the coastal city Dürres, who had to go to the hospital. It is not the first time in Albania that journalists have been targeted during protests.
PM Rama reacts
At first, Albanian Prime Minister Rama claimed that protesters were rallying against the war in Ukraine, being “paid to protest” and “serving Putin”. He was “ashamed that a NATO country doesn`t understand the consequences of the war in Ukraine”. Albanian opposition categorically denies these allegations. Organizata Politike, a left-wing civil society movement said that they “condemn the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin, and stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people who fight for their freedom.”
Later, PM Rama set up a National Board for Managing Fuels on 11 March, and announced several measures to quell the worst consequences of the fuel price hike. However, the legitimacy of Albanian politics remains very low. Many believe that Albanian politics is controlled by oligarchs and is mired in financial crime and corruption. Transparency International has warned earlier that Albania is at great risk of state capture by politicians and powerful oligarchs.
Protesters have said to continue protesting until their demands for lower prices are met. While the situation in Ukraine is exceptional, it certainly does not justify exceptional measures elsewhere. In Albania, protesters must be able to assemble and express themselves freely, without governmental repression.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons