Prior to the reforms of the early 1990s, a politically and ideologically oriented penal code facilitated systematic violations of human rights and ensured the communist party control over all aspects of Albania's political, economic, and cultural life. Article 53 of the 1982 code, for example, broadly defined sabotage as "activity or inactivity to weaken or undermine the operations of the state and the Albanian Party of Labor, the socialist economy, and the organization and administration of the state and society"--a crime punishable by at least ten years' imprisonment or by death. The crime of "fascist, anti-democratic, religious, warmongering, and antisocialist agitation and propaganda," as defined by Article 55, carried a penalty of three to ten years' imprisonment or, in wartime, not less than ten years' imprisonment or death. Article 47 stipulated a penalty of not less than ten years or death for "flight from the state" or for "refusal to return to the fatherland." The penal code listed a total of thirty-four offenses punishable by death, of which twelve were political and eleven were military. Although individuals accused of criminal behavior theoretically had the right to present a defense, they could not avail themselves of the services of a professional attorney; the private practice of law in Albania had been banned in 1967.
In 1990, following serious and widespread public unrest, steps were taken to liberalize the penal code. The number of offenses punishable by death was reduced from thirty-four to eleven, women were exempted from the death penalty, the maximum prison sentence for "anti-socialist agitation and propaganda" was reduced from twenty-five to ten years, the maximum prison sentence for attempts to leave the country illegally also was reduced from twenty-five to ten years, the legal status of lawyers was restored, and the official ban on religious activity was abolished.
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