Albania

Last Updated 24 October 2020

1Albania is a constitutionally secular country, while the religious demographic of the country has a Muslim majority (56.7%) there is also a strong Albanian Orthodox (6.8%) and Roman Catholic (10%) population, according to the 2011 census. The same census data lists 2.5% of the population as atheist, a further 16.2% of the population did not specify, leading some to speculate that the number of non-believers is higher than recorded.1https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/al.html; http://www.gazetatema.net/2011/10/21/sot-mbyllet-censusi-dyshimet-mbeten/ (in Albanian) A UNDP study conducted in 2018, indicates that only 37% of Albanians consider themselves to be practising.2https://www.al.undp.org/content/albania/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2018/04/25/undp-albania-study-on-religious-tolerance-reveals-that-religious-tolerance-is-broadly-valued-and-supported-by-albanian-citizens.html

The Constitution and legal system along with a secular education system protects universal human rights. However there are agreements with religious groups in place that provide a number of privileges to those groups including tax-exemption status.

 
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

The preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of Albania3https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/3/2/41888.pdf sets the tone for the rights that follow stating:

“[w]e, the people of Albania, proud and aware of our history, with responsibility for the future, and with faith in God and/or other universal values with determination to build a social and democratic state based on the rule of law, and to guarantee the fundamental human rights and freedoms, with a spirit of religious coexistence and tolerance, with a pledge to protect human dignity and personhood, as well as for the prosperity of the whole nation, for peace, well-being, culture and social solidarity, with the centuries-old aspiration of the Albanian people for national identity and unity, with a deep conviction that justice, peace, harmony and cooperation between nations are among the highest values of humanity…”

However, while the Constitution protects religious communities and confirms the neutrality of the state with regards questions of beliefs and conscience it doesn’t explicitly protect non-religious communities. It makes explicitly clear that the equality and independence of religious communities is to be respected by the state and by each other, this statement specifically identifies religious communities and mentions nothing of the non-religious.

Article 10(2), however, says that, “[t]he state is neutral in questions of belief and conscience, and also, it guarantees the freedom of their expression in public life.” Which seems to imply that the expression of any belief is constitutionally protected, religious or otherwise.

Article 10(5) states that, “[r]elations between the state and religious communities are regulated on the basis of agreements entered into between their representatives and the Council of Ministers. These agreements are ratified by the Assembly.” As such, the government has distinct agreements with the Sunni Muslim and Bektashi (a form of Shia Sufism) communities, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the Evangelical Brotherhood of Albania (VUSH), a Protestant umbrella organization. These bilateral agreements codify arrangements pertaining to official recognition, property restitution, tax exemptions on income, donations and religious property, and exemption from submitting accounting records for religious activities. 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.4https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/albania/

Subsequent articles enshrine the rights to freedom of conscience and religion (Article 24), freedom of expression (Article 22), association (Article 46) and assembly (Article 47).

Several articles of the Criminal Code prohibit “acts against religious freedom”, including obstructing an individual’s ability to practise a religion (Article 133), obstructing activities of a religious organization (Article 131) or wilfully destroying objects of worship (Article 132).5https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-STD(2010)047-e The offences carry penalties of up to three years in prison or a fine.

Official attitudes towards the non-religious

Reports indicate that official attitudes towards the non-religious have become increasingly negative, with the derogatory slur “pafe” (translating to “infidel”) being used by high-level politicians against their opponents, as was the case in May 2020 when the current Prime Minister Rama banned public prayer in public squares during Eid al-Fitr.6https://www.rd.al/2020/05/rama-ndaloi-faljen-ne-sheshe-reagon-berisha-nje-akt-prej-narkodiktatori-ateist-kerkon-te-dale-mbi-zotin/; https://fjala.al/2020/05/07/rama-ja-ku-ndryshon-sali-berisha-nga-gramoz-ruci/ Anecdotal evidence suggests that the term “atheist” tends to be used by politicians as a pejorative term to reference totalitarian communism.7The Republic of Albania was previously ruled by Marxist-Leninist government between 1946-1992. During this period, religious groups suffered persecution and out-right bans.

Education and children’s rights

According to the Ministry of Education, public schools are secular and the law prohibits ideological and religious indoctrination. While religious education is not permitted, the law does permit the teaching of the history of religion or comparative religions as part of a humanities curriculum.8https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/albania/ In 2016, the state began a pilot program to teach public school students the history of religion with the purposes of countering extremism.9https://balkaninsight.com/2016/04/12/religion-in-public-schools-sparks-debates-in-albania-04-11-2016/ The program subsequently stalled.10https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/albania/

Religious groups, including Muslims and Catholic and Orthodox Christian, run numerous state-licensed private schools. These private schools may teach religion, but their curricula must comply with national education standards.

Family, community and society

Registration of Religious Groups

The government does not require registration or licensing of religious groups; however, a state committee maintains records on foreign religious organizations that solicit its assistance.

Registration grants religious groups the right to hold bank accounts and own property, as well as some level of tax-exempt status. The four traditional religious communities signed agreements with the government in 2008 granting them wider tax exemptions and other privileges.

(It remains unclear whether similar advantages could be obtained by specifically secular worldview organizations.)

Discrimination

According to Amnesty International, “Although pervasive, gender-based discrimination at work, including sexual harassment, remained greatly underreported.[…] Only 19% of women owned property due to poor implementation of the property registration law and a patriarchal tradition that favours male inheritance.”11https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/albania/report-albania/; https://eca.unwomen.org/en/where-we-are/albania

Further, members of the LGBTQ+ community are reported to conceal their sexual identities in order to escape ostracism and discrimination.12https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/albania/report-albania/

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

While the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, Albania lacks strong, independent media. Most media outlets are seen as proxies for one or other of the two main political parties. Reporters have little job security and are vulnerable to lawsuits, intimidation, and even physical attacks by those facing media scrutiny. Journalists critical of the government have experienced official harassment, physical attacks, death threats, and other forms of intimidation.

In the same year, an international delegation of media freedom organizations concluded that media freedom was declining in the republic, citing physical attacks, public officials’ use of derogatory language and smear campaigns against journalists, and proposed draconian legislation.13https://www.article19.org/resources/albania-preliminary-findings-of-joint-freedom-of-expression-mission/

2019 saw the government propose new restrictions to media freedom, especially as it pertains to the digital sphere.14https://www.article19.org/resources/albania-government-must-withdraw-anti-defamation-legislation-introducing-state-regulation-of-online-media-outlets/ The package of legislation was subsequently vetoed by the president, however, there are reports that the government is seeking to overturn his decision.15https://rsf.org/en/albania

Media freedom during COVID-19

According to Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 World Press Freedom Index:16https://rsf.org/en/albania

“As the coronavirus crisis broke out in March 2020, Prime Minister Edi Rama called on citizens to protect themselves against, among other things, the media. Physicals attacks and defamation cases increasingly filed by officials against journalists continue to maintain the climate of insecurity and intimidation. This – in combination with the denigrating language of politicians – turns reporters into possible targets of aggression.”

References   [ + ]

1. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/al.html; http://www.gazetatema.net/2011/10/21/sot-mbyllet-censusi-dyshimet-mbeten/ (in Albanian)
2. https://www.al.undp.org/content/albania/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2018/04/25/undp-albania-study-on-religious-tolerance-reveals-that-religious-tolerance-is-broadly-valued-and-supported-by-albanian-citizens.html
3. https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/3/2/41888.pdf
4, 8, 10. https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/albania/
5. https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-STD(2010)047-e
6. https://www.rd.al/2020/05/rama-ndaloi-faljen-ne-sheshe-reagon-berisha-nje-akt-prej-narkodiktatori-ateist-kerkon-te-dale-mbi-zotin/; https://fjala.al/2020/05/07/rama-ja-ku-ndryshon-sali-berisha-nga-gramoz-ruci/
7. The Republic of Albania was previously ruled by Marxist-Leninist government between 1946-1992. During this period, religious groups suffered persecution and out-right bans.
9. https://balkaninsight.com/2016/04/12/religion-in-public-schools-sparks-debates-in-albania-04-11-2016/
11. https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/albania/report-albania/; https://eca.unwomen.org/en/where-we-are/albania
12. https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/albania/report-albania/
13. https://www.article19.org/resources/albania-preliminary-findings-of-joint-freedom-of-expression-mission/
14. https://www.article19.org/resources/albania-government-must-withdraw-anti-defamation-legislation-introducing-state-regulation-of-online-media-outlets/
15, 16. https://rsf.org/en/albania

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