Free Berisha

Free Berisha

22:52, 05/04/2024
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Artan Hoxha


On December 8, 2024, Sali Berisha will have completed a full 100 days and nights under 'house arrest'. This decision was made on December 30, 2023, by the Special Court following the approval of the Special Prosecutor's Request by the Reborn Assembly.


Since the beginning of January, numerous supporters of Sali Berisha have been congregating daily on the street below his apartment, delivering speeches and listening to his addresses. During the protest rally on February 20, 2024, commemorating February 20, 1991, a larger crowd assembled than ever before, with their leader participating online from house arrest while more people gathered in front of the Prime Minister's Office on the Boulevard.


For the supporters, and likely others as well, it is evident that Sali Berisha is a political victim of the local hybrid regime. This regime has increasingly displayed autocratic tendencies over recent years, eroding democratic principles. These trends have been aided not only by domestic factors but also by external influences, notably the neoliberal establishment. This establishment, which has governed countries like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and key European Union nations for years, has played a significant role in shaping the current political landscape.


But for Sali Berisha to be considered as he is, persecuted and politically arrested by this regime, continuous and patient argumentation is required with local and foreign third parties so that, from an opposition opinion, belief and action, the battle for recognition of the status of the politically persecuted and for his release from house arrest until innocence, to become a widely social, widely international battle. Therefore, the arguments should be recorded in time and spread as much as possible.


The Berisha case has been inherently political from its inception, marked by the State Department's declaration of 'persona non grata' with insinuations of corruption. This action, so incredulous and unfounded, has drawn criticism even from the Council of Ambassadors, a group comprising numerous former ambassadors who served the USA over the past six decades. They have highlighted the misrepresentation of arguments put forth by Ambassador Juri Kim on behalf of the State Department, likening the situation to the Chinese expression 'kill chickens to scare monkeys'.


The United Kingdom's decision to declare Sali Berisha as persona non grata, seemingly aligning with the American stance, underscores the international dimension of the situation. This move, driven by the UK's own legal requirements, compelled them to present arguments that were subsequently publicized by Berisha himself. Such actions shed light on the perceived lack of merit behind the American arguments, highlighting their potential baselessness.


The USA's dissatisfaction with the UK's announcement alone prompted further efforts to enforce internal policies in Albania, aimed at punishing, isolating, and politically annihilating Sali Berisha. These efforts included pressuring Lulzim Basha to expel Berisha from the democratic parliamentary group. Subsequently, the Berishist group, which held an overwhelming majority within the Democratic Party (DP), was deprived of its rightful status as the party's majority in court, despite being entitled to it by law, statute, and logic. This move effectively supported the minority faction led by Basha within the DP, thereby influencing or incentivizing positions held by the government, the reborn Assembly, the reborn Justice system, the Central Election Commission (CEC), and the reborn Electoral College. The USA's involvement extended to public statements, such as the one made by Gabriel Escobar, a representative of the Department of State, during an interview on Voice of America on October 25, 2022. In the interview, Escobar more or less implied that "...we made a decision based on the corruption we found (understand: regarding Sali Berisha), I would call on the Albanian institutions to continue...", effectively urging Albanian institutions to align with the USA's stance on the matter.


The Revivalist Government, led by Chief Revivalist Edi Rama, is not merely a passive executor of American directives, nor is it solely a beneficiary of the advantages stemming from their implementation. Instead, it actively engages in shaping and influencing the implementation of these directives to further its own interests and agenda.


The McGonigal case, involving a disgraced FBI officer, challenges Edi Rama's assertion that he doesn't speak English for the opposition. It suggests that Rama, perhaps even personally, may have played a role in initiating or perpetuating an artificial investigation into the alleged Russian (meaning Putinian) origin of funds related to Lulzim Basha. Additionally, the orchestrated media attacks by another disgraced FBI officer, Marko Rosini, who was both a former colleague and business partner of McGonigal, against Sali Berisha, including labeling him as 'Putin's puppet', raise questions about McGonigal's potential involvement in the processing of the 'Berisha' file in the US. Furthermore, Edi Rama himself has frequently, and perhaps abusively, linked moments of radical opposition with Russian influence in many of his speeches throughout his mandates. This pattern suggests a broader narrative of associating opposition movements with Russian influence, which could be used to discredit political adversaries.


The investigation into Sali Berisha formally commences with a report to the head of the Revivalist Parliamentary Group, Taulant Balla, who currently serves as the Minister of the Interior. Subsequently, it progresses with a public, almost definitive, request from Edi Rama for the Special Prosecutor's Office to investigate Sali Berisha and clarify the issue. Rama's statement framed the matter as a national shame, emphasizing the urgency of the investigation to prevent the loss of patience among socialist supporters.


The Special Prosecutor's Office formulated and the Special Court accepted the suspicion of corruption against Sali Berisha and his son-in-law, Jamarber Malltezi, based on arguments and motives that were deemed completely absurd. The legal changes in property laws, which aimed to rectify injustices suffered by thousands of owners unjustly expropriated by the communist regime and left uncompensated by the subsequent hybrid regime, were interpreted as serving the personal benefit of Berisha's family members. Similarly, the establishment of new structures for property return and compensation, which aimed to improve efficiency and serve the broader social category affected by past injustices, was portrayed as a means for the Prime Minister to consolidate power to benefit his daughter-in-law. These interpretations compromised the integrity of laws and acts, portraying Berisha as abusing his authority and position for personal gain. The narrative of inspecting the army's property, initially portrayed as heroic, was debunked as a tactic to exert pressure on Berisha.


The reborn justice system went to great lengths to attribute the decision regarding the destination of returned properties, deemed illegal by their standards, solely and entirely to Prime Minister Sali Berisha. However, it's worth noting that initially, this decision was made by Edi Rama himself, then the Mayor of Tirana Municipality, without any request from the property owners. In their pursuit to implicate Sali Berisha, authorities resorted to fabricating a narrative of illegal enrichment by his son-in-law, alleging that it was due to Berisha's abuse of his position. Interestingly, the accusations were arbitrarily isolated to these two individuals, along with a third accomplice who was a partner of the son-in-law and co-owner of the land. If the accusations were to follow a logical trajectory, they would have implicated numerous other individuals and properties, including Edi Rama and several of his municipal directors at the time.


The Assembly's avoidance regarding these two measures not only reflects poorly on the justice system but also undermines the Assembly itself. This is particularly evident when comparing it to a past case involving Samir Tahir in October 2017, where the Assembly granted authorization for similar measures. Subsequently, about two months later, the Prosecutor's Office of the Special Court at the time, citing this authorization as a necessary and fulfilled preliminary condition, implemented a ban on Tahiri's travel abroad and imposed an obligation for him to appear. The inconsistency in the Assembly's response to similar situations raises questions about its commitment to upholding justice and the rule of law consistently.


This was the precedent that dictated the prior involvement of the Assembly.


The Assembly should have asked the Special Court itself that the first measures against Sali Berisha be discussed first in the Assembly, clarify this position in December 2023 when arrest measures were requested for Sali Berisha, and ask the Constitutional Court itself for the interpretation of Constitution. Regarding the fact that, for the interests of power, the reborn Assembly did nothing of this and the reborn Constitutional Court also washed its hands of the case, not accepting the request of more than 1/5 of the opposition MPs, with a strange argument that directly changes the letter itself of Article 134/1 of the Constitution, therefore leaving the Assembly completely unprotected from the seizure of powers by the Government that controls the majority of this institution.


Subsequently, the Assembly brought further disgrace upon itself by swiftly and readily accepting the Special Prosecutor's Office's request to tighten security measures against Sali Berisha. This decision was made solely on the grounds of his alleged non-compliance with previous measures. There was no evidence of new dangers presented by the prosecutors, such as the risk of Berisha's escape or the compromising of evidence or due process. Berisha's active participation in legal proceedings through his lawyers and his cooperation with the Special Prosecutor's Office during questioning sessions undermine the necessity of the imposed security measures, including house arrest. Moreover, the absurdity of prohibiting communication with anyone except his wife serves to underscore the true purpose of these measures: to exert psychological and political pressure on Berisha rather than to ensure security or uphold justice.


All levels of the reborn Justice system and various courts within this system have also contributed to this disgrace by persistently maintaining the same security measures against Sali Berisha, despite the lack of justification for their continuation. This includes the unjustifiable decision to prevent Berisha from attending even the plenary sessions of the Assembly, thereby prioritizing the interests of the judiciary over those of a legislator. However, Berisha's participation in the Assembly sessions for a few hours one or two days a week would not compromise the judicial process. The Assembly's passive acceptance of this situation further adds to its disgrace, marking it as a third instance of failure.


Indeed, the case of Sali Berisha is likely to be brought before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where the legal merits of the situation will be thoroughly examined. However, until then, the status of Sali Berisha as a political victim, which appears incompatible with democratic principles and the laws of this system, should be highlighted. Therefore, the call for Berisha's release from arrest and the dismissal of baseless accusations should be elevated to a social issue, involving not only elites and various layers of society but also garnering attention from external actors and international public opinion. Given the interest in developments in the Balkan region, this issue holds significance beyond national borders. The persecution and political arrest of Sali Berisha serve as evidence of the autocratic tendencies within Edi Rama's regime. Therefore, securing Berisha's freedom is not merely a personal battle for him as an individual or a leader, but rather a broader struggle for democracy and the rule of law. It is a battle that transcends individual interests and encompasses the collective future of the country.


It appears that there may be a shift underway in the attitude of the international community. The strategy of incentivizing Serbia with promises of rewards while using minimal coercion, where Edi Rama was expected to play a key role in providing these incentives, seems to be losing effectiveness over time. Similarly, the notion that stability in the Balkans and the containment of Russian and Chinese interests are best achieved through cooperation with autocrats, particularly the Vucic-Rama duo, is losing support day by day. European Chancelleries are moving more swiftly in this direction compared to the United States, although the latter is also showing signs of change, albeit more slowly. Furthermore, the attack on Sali Berisha appears to be connected to these shifting geopolitical interests and approaches, which are now evolving. It is not credible to suggest that the attack is solely motivated by allegations of corruption—such claims insult the intelligence of the public.


On the other hand, Sali Berisha has demonstrated remarkable resilience, buoyed by widespread popular support in Albania, Kosovo, and the Diaspora. This has led pragmatic American observers to reassess the futility of continuing to punish him for geopolitical interests that are becoming increasingly outdated. Additionally, the diminishing support for Lulzim Basha, along with other factors, has contributed to this reevaluation. Furthermore, there is a growing recognition of the negative consequences inflicted upon the political and social balance of the country by the unwarranted favoritism shown towards the renaissance faction of politics and the excessive criticism directed at the democratic faction.


Moreover, despite being unfairly targeted, neither Sali Berisha himself nor his supporters have wavered in their stance against anti-Americanism. They have consistently maintained their dignity, integrity, and sovereignty in their positions regarding US policies on this particular issue and others related to it.


Therefore, among the three anomalies within the opposition, there are promising signs of progress. Firstly, the anomaly regarding the recognition of the parliamentary opposition's reality has begun to normalize, with the acceptance of the parliamentary group and its chairman in the Assembly. Secondly, there are indications that the legal and statutory rights of the majority of Democratic Party members who followed and supported Sali Berisha are moving towards a proper judicial resolution, as evidenced by the December decision of the Supreme Court, which shows some positive signs in this regard. Lastly, while the cancellation of Sali Berisha's illegal arrest may still be distant, it remains a possibility on the horizon.


Clearly the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction.


But this is a topic that deserves its own and broader treatment.



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