The government increased financial support in the budget for the Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox, and Bektashi communities. Although the government had conferred official recognition to the VUSH through a bilateral agreement in 2011, it did not amend the original law providing for financial support to these groups to include the VUSH or draft a separate law, and continued not to provide financial support to the organization. In October the VUSH sent a formal letter requesting the government amend the law or issue a separate law, and the government continued consideration of these options.
Although there was no legal prohibition against wearing religious clothing or symbols, school principals maintained the right to set standards for “appropriate clothing,” which in some instances included restrictions on public displays of religious symbols. In September a 16-year-old Muslim girl submitted a report to the anti-discrimination commissioner stating she was denied the right to attend public school by the school’s principal after the girl started wearing a headscarf. At year’s end, the commissioner was examining the case and had requested a response from the Ministry of Education.
During the year, three additional complaints of discrimination on the basis of religious affiliation were made to the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination. In one case, involving an allegation by a female employee of the postal service that she had been dismissed from her job because she regularly took time from her job to pray at a mosque, the commissioner ruled the employee’s dismissal had not been based on her religious beliefs, but on deficiencies in her job performance. The commissioner dismissed the second case, involving a professor’s allegation he was banned from teaching because of his religious beliefs, because it had been filed after the statute of limitations had expired. The third case, involving a prosecutor’s complaint he had been transferred from the District Prosecutor’s Office of Dibra because of his religious beliefs, remained under investigation.
The government continued to address both preexisting and new claims from religious groups regarding the return or restitution of property seized during the former communist era; however, many property claims remained unresolved. The State Agency for the Restitution and Compensation of Property was required by law to give priority to properties owned by religious groups, but religious groups reported progress was slow. In some cases, the government provided land grants in lieu of property restitution. Administrative and legal challenges related to ownership claims made property restitution difficult for individuals and organizations, including religious groups. During the year the government completed the return of four properties to the Orthodox Church through the restitution process. The government also restored one property to the Catholic Church, and compensated the Muslim community in Shkoder for one property. Hundreds of other claims by religious communities remained unresolved. The Orthodox Church reported they had claims involving 890 buildings and properties still pending with the government, including more than 50 church properties converted to military installations.
During the year, negotiations continued to resolve a 2013 case in which private bailiffs hired by the city of Permet forcibly removed several Orthodox clergy members and religious artifacts from a disputed property.
Some religious groups said disputes over property ownership and problems in tracking or registering land ownership had made it difficult to acquire new land on which to build places of worship. VUSH members rented existing buildings, but reported difficulties acquiring land and constructing their own buildings impeded their ability to hold religious services.
In November the government granted the Albanian Islamic Community (AIC) a permit to construct a new central mosque on land in Tirana being returned to the AIC through the restitution process.
The government pledged to finance the completion of a central place of worship for the Bektashi community, construction of which had been delayed for financial reasons. In October the government began disbursing these funds to the Bektashi community.
Several religious leaders continued to challenge the results of the 2011 census, stating census officials never visited a large number of their followers and confusion regarding the consequences of ethnic and religious self-identification may have led many respondents not to identify their religious affiliation. Ethnic Greek minority groups had encouraged their members to boycott the census, affecting measurements of the Greek ethnic minority and membership in the Greek Orthodox Church. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches and Bektashi representatives all maintained their numbers were underrepresented in the official census. These groups felt undercounting their adherents portrayed an inaccurate picture of the religious demographics of the country.