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Post-Communist Government Accused of Trampling Democracy

March 8, 1995

TIRANA, Albania (AP) _ Leaders of Europe’s most backward state are facing growing criticism that they are acting like the old Communist bosses, harassing foes, sanctioning human rights abuses and seeking to influence judges.

Such charges have increased along with discontent over government corruption, a lack of professionalism among bureaucrats and worsening water and electricity shortages.

Last November, those perceptions led voters to reject a new constitution strongly supported by President Sali Berisha, a former cardiologist whose administration appears to be adrift.

The charter was generally in line with those of other European nations, but it became a referendum on Berisha.

Albanians agree that Berisha’s Democratic Party is not totally at fault for anti-democratic actions, because the legacy of Stalinist strongman Enver Hoxha still is deep in this country of 3.2 million people.

``The old mentality in this country is still very much alive,″ said Arben Puto, chairman of the Albanian Helsinki Committee for human rights.

Tomor Dosti, a deputy chief of the party, said, ``The misfortune is our ideology is steeped in Hoxha’s ideology.″

Even the critics acknowledge that the Democratic Party’s government has kept inflation in check at about 15 percent, improved public security, made society more open since the Communist era, and privatized much farmland.

But they voice fears about the damage done to the political system. ``I am afraid of anarchy,″ said Arben Imami, an opposition lawmaker. ``The state is no longer respected.″

Abuse of human rights is one of the critics’ main worries. Puto’s group is particularly concerned about the use of violence by police, saying there are daily complaints stemming from prisons and police stations.

At least seven people were reported shot or beaten to death in police custody in 1994, the London-based human rights group Amnesty International said in a report in November.

Puto said police officials and leaders of the ruling party do not have ``a real feeling of responsibility for what is happening in the country.″

He said it was common to prevent prisoners from using a toilet more than three times a day. In one case, a prisoner found reading a newspaper was sent to solitary confinement. Newspapers and books, except the Bible and the Koran, are forbidden in prisons.

Hugh Chetwind, a legal expert for the Council of Europe, said Albanian police often present suspects on television. As in the Communist past, the state is acting ``as an arbiter and, in so doing, it prejudges people,″ he said.

The Interparliamentary Union, an association of the world’s parliaments, has accused Albanian authorities of violating basic human rights in prosecuting Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano. He was sentenced last April to 12 years in prison for allegedly misappropriating funds, a charge that the union says was not supported by the evidence.

Berisha brooks no criticism even from his own party. At his urging, Democratic Party delegates voted overwhelmingly Monday to oust their chairman, Eduard Selami, because he criticized the president’s administration.

The government may soon try to have lawmakers lift the parliamentary immunity of former Finance Minister Genc Ruli and former Deputy Premier Rexhep Uka, who are both out of favor with Berisha.

Immunity protects officials from criminal charges, and Berisha’s opponents accuse him of increasingly using the lifting of immunity to pressure or retaliate against his foes.

The president’s so-far unsuccessful attempt to oust Zef Brozi, the chief of the Supreme Court, highlights official interference with the courts.

Brozi noted that on Dec. 29, while parliament was discussing the government’s bid to lift his immunity, his court already was surrounded by police vans. ``I think that an arrest warrant was ready,″ he said.

Parliament refused again on Feb. 2 to revoke Brozi’s immunity.

The justice rejects the government’s claim that it is seeking his removal because he freed a Greek businessman sentenced on a drug-related charge.

Brozi called the case against the businessman flimsy and contended that the real reason for the government’s action was other decisions his court had made.

``This court declared innocent two previously convicted journalists and reduced sentences against some former Politburo members,″ he said.

High party and government leaders think they have the right ``to direct them (judges) how to deal with various cases,″ Brozi said. ``They think they have the right to replace judges who do not obey their instructions.″

On Feb. 8, Brozi took on the government once more. He presided over a three-judge panel that commuted stiff prison terms to suspended sentences for five ethnic Greeks convicted of espionage and weapons possession. Despite a last-minute attempt to block the release, they were set free the same day.

Government officials sometimes try to explain away judicial chaos by citing the lack of trained judges. Some judges have just finished law school and are in their early 20s.

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