With gay rights activists in Albania set to organise the country’s first ever gay pride parade in Tirana on May 17, religious groups and the Royalist Party have been quick to denounce the proposed plans. 

Reacting to the plans, announced on Friday, Albania’s deputy defence minister and leader of the Royalist Party, Ekrem Spahiu, had this to say: “My only commentary on this gay parade is that they should be beaten with truncheons.”

Meanwhile, both Muslim leaders and the Catholic Church have also spoken strongly against the plans. “Such public demonstration is an abuse of human rights and freedoms and presents a danger for the morals and tradition of the Albanian family,” one Mr Agron Hoxha, representing the Muslim community, told local media. Echoing these comments was the spokesman for the Catholic Church, Gjerg Meta, who said that “homosexuality is opposed to the natural order and the morals of society.”

This is not surprising, given that most of Albania’s population of 3.2 million are Muslims, and the patriarchal society is deeply homophobic. However, since the country formally applied to become a member of the European Union, it has taken steps to outlaw discrimination against sexual minorities, mainly on the basis of recommendations from the Council of Europe, passing two laws to that effect in 2009 and 2010.

Albanian gay rights organisations have been quick to react to Mr Spiahu’s outburst. “This is a call to violence, and we will ask through our lawyers that Spahiu be convicted, in accordance with Albanian law, to a prison sentence of up to five years,” said Kristi Pinderi, spokesman for an anti-discrimination organisation. These comments were also reiterated by the LGBT wing of Human Rights Watch.

However, the Royalist Party has officially released a statement saying homosexuality “is a sexual deviation, a vice, a misfortune or a curse that cannot be tolerated.”

Update: The Associated Press reports that Albania’s prime minister has issued a rebuke to Spahiu’s comments, saying they were “unacceptable” and “an excess.”