CIVICUS

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Last updated on 17.01.2018 at 16:48

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Mass protests continue over weakening of anti-corruption laws

Mass protests continue over weakening of anti-corruption laws

Mass protests continued at the end of 2017 and are likely to continue into 2018 as civil society remains concerned over a weakening of democratic protections and the fight against corruption in Romania.

Peaceful Assembly

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the government’s attempts to weaken anti-corruption legislation triggered numerous mass protests in Bucharest and other major cities across the country in 2017. The proposed legal changes have caused concern at home, as well as in the European Union and United States. This series of mass protests has continued since the last Monitor update.

On 26th November 2017, around 40 civil society organisations and two of the biggest union confederations joined forces for a demonstration in Bucharest’s Victoriei Square. Over 15,000 people participated in the event. A statement by the organisers declared that the protest had been called due to:

“The political confiscation of the justice system, the fact that the state was taken over by a political mafia that weakens anti-corruption legislation to escape criminal liability, the Government’s political and institutional war against civil society, the attacks of the parliamentary majority against NATO and EU allies, the fiscal chaos and the accelerated depreciation of the local currency, the rising prices and the budget deficit [which] will de facto throw Romania out of the European Union and NATO”.

Similar mass events took place in Bucharest on 10th December and 17th December, in addition to smaller events held in the days before and after. Thousands also took to the streets in other Romanian cities throughout December.

There were reports of minor altercations, but police generally respected the freedom of peaceful assembly. Bucharest City Hall, however, continued its attempts to restrict this freedom through administrative measures. Those measures included the planning of a Christmas market on Victoriei Square, which has been the main staging point for anti-corruption protests since 2017. This would have meant that no protest could be held in front of the Romanian Parliament in the month of December. Ultimately, however, City Hall scrapped its plans.

A meeting between civil society representatives and Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose to discuss the planned legal changes was deemed unsatisfactory by civil society groups. After the meeting, Mihai Politeanu, an activist with the Initiativa Romania NGO, told Romania-Insider.com that:

“Romania is at a moment of major slippage from democratic standards and rule of law standards and the prime minister must take over his responsibilities and use institutional leverage to halt these major slippages”.

Further street demonstrations are therefore likely in the near future, including a large protest planned for 20th January.

Association

People in Romania are able to form associations to advance their interests, generally without interference from the state.

People in Romania are able to form associations to advance their interests, generally without interference from the state. The constitution guarantees freedom of association, and the principal regulation governing CSOs is the Governmental Ordinance 26/2000, which was substantially amended by Law 246/2005. The law states that any organisation must register in a court and the procedure is fairly simple. There are no limitations on CSOs’ sources of income. Most human rights defenders can operate without interference, however on occasion organisations critical of the government face hostile treatment and can become the targets of smear campaigns. As a consequence, some NGOs have refrained from performing advocacy, fearing retribution from politicians.

Peaceful Assembly

People in Romania are generally able to assemble peacefully in public places and they do so frequently and across the country.

People in Romania are generally able to assemble peacefully in public places and they do so frequently and across the country. In November 2015 for example tens of thousands took to the streets to protest against public sector corruption, highlight the deaths of 32 people in a nightclub fire and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Ponta. In 2014, thousands gathered in the city of Cluj demanding the resignation of Minister Corlăţean, while many environmental protests in opposition to the Roșia Montană project. Law no. 60/1991 regulates public gatherings and requires prior notice for demonstrations. The law prohibits ‘hindering the regular use of public roads and public transportation’ and imposes fines on protestors who breach the law.

Expression

Freedom of expression is protected by the constitution, while defamation and insult were removed as criminal offences in Romania with the adoption of the new Romanian Criminal Code in 2014.

Freedom of expression is protected by the constitution, while defamation and insult were removed as criminal offences in Romania with the adoption of the new Romanian Criminal Code in 2014. Private media is dominated by business people with links to political parties. Such ownership structures influence editorial lines and causes news coverage to be politically biased. While journalists in Romania are able to work without major interference, they are subjected to verbal abuse and intimidation. An economic crisis has negatively impacted the sustainability of private media outlets, and there are now very few investigative journalists working in Romania.

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