At least 12 political prisoners were convicted during the year in unfair trials; some were prisoners of conscience. Other prisoners of conscience were detained for short periods. There were frequent reports that police had beaten or otherwise ill-treated people during arrest or in custody. At least five people died after being severely beaten in police custody. Seven men were sentenced to death for murder; two were executed. In July former President Ramiz Alia and nine other former leading communist party officials were sentenced to between three and nine years' imprisonment for misappropriation of state property and abuse of office. In November a new constitution was rejected in a referendum. There were several trials of political prisoners during the year which failed to meet international standards of fair trial. Some of those convicted were prisoners of conscience. In January Martin Leka and Aleksandër Frangaj, journalist and editor respectively of the newspaper Koha Jone, were arrested on charges of "slander" and revealing state secrets, together with two military officers. Koha Jone had published and commented on an order of the Minister of Defence forbidding off-duty officers to carry personal weapons outside barracks. At their trial in February Martin Leka was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment and Romeo Liçi, an army officer, was sentenced to four years' imprisonment. Aleksandër Frangaj was acquitted and he and the second army officer were released. An appeal by the prosecution was heard in March. Martin Leka's sentence was confirmed. Aleksandër Frangaj, who was out of the country at the time, was sentenced to five months' imprisonment. In early May Martin Leka and Aleksandër Frangaj received a presidential pardon and Martin Leka was released. At the end of the month he and Aleksandër Frangaj were acquitted by the Court of Cassation, which also reduced Romeo Liçi's sentence to two years' imprisonment. In November Romeo Liçi was released under an amnesty. In March the district court of Tirana sentenced Fatos Nano, leader of the Socialist Party and former prime minister, to 12 years' imprisonment on charges of embezzlement of state property and falsification of official documents in connection with shipments of Italian emergency aid to Albania in 1991. Three co-defendants, accused of abuse of office, were also convicted. They received prison sentences of three years, one year and three years suspended for one year respectively. The Court of Appeal upheld these sentences in May. The defendants all rejected the charges. Fatos Nano refused to cooperate with the court, stating that he considered the trial to be fabricated with the aim of discrediting the Socialist Party. His lawyer pointed to numerous violations of his client's right to defence: the failure to inform Fatos Nano of the charges against him until September 1993, two months after his arrest; arbitrary restrictions on the time allowed for consultation with his lawyer prior to the trial; lack of access to the full investigation file and the elimination from this file of material relevant to the defence. Evidence produced in court did not convincingly substantiate the charges against the accused. In November his prison sentence was reduced to eight years under an amnesty. In August Kurt Kola, President of the Association of Former Political Prisoners, was placed under house arrest. He was charged with obstructing the execution of a court decision after the Association refused to comply with a court order (based on legislation dealing with industrial strikes) to end a hunger-strike by some 2,500 former political prisoners demanding economic compensation for their detention under communist rule prior to 1991. He was released in November and charges against him were withdrawn. In September, five leading members of Omonia, an organization representing the Greek minority, were sentenced by a court in Tirana to between six and eight years' imprisonment on charges of treason and espionage for Greece. Only one of the defendants, Theodhor Bezhani, had a lawyer throughout investigation proceedings; the defendants were denied full access to the court file; the court refused requests by the defendants to call additional witnesses and it admitted as evidence statements by witnesses who did not appear in court, even when, as in one case, the witness had subsequently repudiated his statement. The defendants and a number of witnesses alleged that statements had been obtained from them by ill-treatment and threats. There was little evidence to substantiate the charges of espionage and treason (including arming members of the Greek minority) brought against them. Three of the defendants, Kosta Qirjako, Theodhor Bezhani and Irakli Sirmo, were also convicted of possessing unlicensed weapons (two bullets, a pistol and a hunting rifle, respectively). On appeal all five defendants had their sentences reduced to between five and seven years' imprisonment. These sentences were further reduced by a third under an amnesty in November. In December Irakli Sirmo was pardoned and released. There were reports of some 100 incidents during the year in which police beat people, including political opponents of the government, during or following arrest. For example, in March police in Tirana arrested and beat Ilir Lulja, a supporter of the Socialist Party. He and members of his family were repeatedly detained and released without charge by police during the year. In November he was again arrested by police who beat and injured him allegedly on the pretext that he was reading the Socialist Party newspaper. In August former political prisoners on hunger-strike in Tirana were evicted from their headquarters and beaten by police in the streets as they dispersed. Police also reportedly arrested and beat a number of their fellow hunger-strikers and supporters in other towns, including Pogradec, Shkodër, Durrës and Fier. Also in August, three members of the Greek minority in Himara were arrested and beaten at state security police headquarters in Tirana after they were found in possession of leaflets printed in Greece calling for the release of the arrested Omonia leaders. In October, three homosexual activists, members of Albania's first and only homosexual organization, founded in March, were arrested and beaten by police in Tirana. One of them suffered multiple fractures to a leg. In November Socialist Party supporters in many regions complained that they had been briefly detained, and sometimes beaten, by police in connection with the referendum on a new constitution which they opposed. At least five people died apparently as a result of ill-treatment in custody. No police officer responsible for these deaths appeared to have been brought to trial by the end of the year. Among the victims was Irfan Nanaj who was beaten at a police station in Saranda after being arrested during a brawl in a bar in January; he was admitted to hospital in a coma and died 10 days later. One police officer was subsequently arrested on charges of having caused his death and a warrant was issued for the arrest of another officer. In September police in Korça were called to the home of Dhimitraq Petro who had quarrelled with his wife. They arrested and beat him; he died of an intra-cranial haemorrhage several days later. At least three people died after being shot by police in suspicious circumstances. In February a police officer in Vlora entered a café in pursuit of someone. When a waiter, Fitim Bitri, approached to find out what was happening, the police officer fatally wounded him. The police officer was later arrested. In June five police officers were sentenced to between one and 17 years' imprisonment for the murder of David Leka in August 1993 (see Amnesty International Report 1994). On appeal their sentences were reduced to between one and 11 years in prison. A press report in September said that the police officer responsible for the death of Romeo Gaçe, who was shot in May 1993, had received "at least a symbolic punishment" (see Amnesty International Report 1994). Seven men were sentenced to death for murder and two were executed. Amnesty International called on the government of President Berisha to release prisoners of conscience and to institute impartial and independent investigations into incidents in which police were alleged to have killed or beaten people. The organization also called for death sentences to be commuted. In September Amnesty International wrote to the authorities expressing the hope that the Court of Appeal reviewing the conviction of the five members of Omonia would take into account breaches of the defendants' right to a fair and open trial and the weakness of the evidence produced in support of charges of espionage and treason. Amnesty International expressed its concern that provisions of a draft criminal code due to go before parliament drastically increased the number of offences punishable by the death penalty and called for the abolition of this punishment. It called for the elimination of provisions allowing for up to three years' imprisonment for adult men found guilty of consensual homosexual acts in private. The organization also expressed concern about articles which it feared could be used to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
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