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News 27 Jan 15

Albania Ombudsman Slams Jail Overcrowding

Albania's Commissioner for the prevention of torture, Jorida Rustemi, said the government's anti-crime drive was causing acute overcrowding in the country's jails.

Gjergj Erebara


  An inmate leaving Prison 325 in Tirana with his belongings after being released. Photo: LSA

Hundreds of Albanians have to endure insufficient space and bad conditions in pre-trial detention centres as a result of the unusually high number of people awaiting trial for electricity theft and breaches of the driving code.

It was creating conditions for “inhuman and degrading treatment”, Rustemi said in a press conference on Monday.

The government has been pushing police and courts to deal more harshly with offenders found to be driving cars or riding motorbikes without proper documents or stealing electricity from the national grid.

Human rights activists say the anti-crime drive has resulted in more court rulings that remand people in custody awaiting trial even for minor offences.

About 700 Albanians have been arrested since last September for unauthorized intrusion into the electricity grid. Hundreds of others have been arrested for breaches in the driving code.

“The majority of the people in overcrowded cells are due to the recent government policies on harsher penalties for breaches in the road code and electricity theft,” Rustemi said.

She urged the government to rethink its policies, and the justice system not to use pre-trial detention measure for minor crimes.

Opposition politicians have accused the Prime Minister, Edi Rama, of pressuring judges to lock up defendants pending trial, which some rights activists say is illegal.

Vjollca Meçe, a lawyer from the Albanian Helsinki Committee, told BIRN that Prime Minister Rama should refrain from telling the justice system what to do.

“Prosecutors and judges should use pre-trial detention as it is prescribed by the law and only in cases when release of a defendant creates risks for public security, not as the only measure available,” Meçe said.

Last December, news that a man accused of electricity theft had committed suicide in an overcrowded prison shocked members of the the public. Qamil Zela was found hanged in the prison after two months awaiting trial.


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