New blow dealt to rule of law in Albania

New blow dealt to rule of law in Albania

The decision of the Central Electoral Commission of Albania to remove Fredi Beleri from the office of mayor of Himare, to which he was elected but never sworn in, completes a 14-month cycle of irregularities by the government of Edi Rama aiming to discredit the jailed ethnic Greek, who is also an MEP representing Greece’s ruling New Democracy.

Decrying a “pre-ordained outcome” fraught with legal issues, the Greek Foreign Ministry noted the novelty of the practice of declaring the resignation of a mayor who was not even allowed to take office, and referred to “the conclusion of a procedure with many questions about fundamental principles of the rule of law.”

Beleri was elected as mayor of the southern Albanian town on May 14, 2023, but just two days before the election, he was arrested on charges of vote-buying and subsequently sentenced to two years in prison.

Beleri, the Greek Foreign Ministry reiterated, was deprived of the presumption of innocence, adding that the integrity of the evidentiary process was violated, while the Municipality of Himare has been run for a year by unauthorizd persons.

Tirana’s eagerness to bring the case to a swift conclusion is also evident from the fact that, although there is a 30-day appeal period after Friday’s decision, the Albanian government submitted an immediate request to the country’s President Bajram Begaj for new elections to be held in Himare. The fact that Begaj immediately accepted the request with elections being set for August 4 suggests that the whole affair was orchestrated by the Albanian government.

Greek-Albanian ties have reached a decade-long low over the last 14 months, and it remains to be seen whether the Rama government will allow Beleri to attend the European Parliament’s first plenary session on July 16 in Strasbourg. So far, the only authorized release of Beleri was a six-hour furlough last December to attend his grandmother’s funeral in Himare.

A decision to allow Beleri, who was elected as an MEP last month, to attend the European Parliament, or, more importantly, to release him from prison since he has already served a significant part of his two-year sentence, would have given some signal of de-escalation on the part of Tirana, but the experience of the last 14 months suggests otherwise. The Greek Foreign Ministry stressed “the obligation” of the Albanian authorities to take all necessary measures to enable Beleri to attend European Parliament proceedings, starting with its plenary session on July 16.

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