Protests call for accountability for 2018 police brutality, EU raises concerns over whistleblower law
War in Ukraine
Since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Romania received the second-largest influx of Ukrainian refugees. Currently, there are over 84,600 refugees in Romania. Romania has generally been welcoming of Ukrainian refugees, with the government and national organisations working to provide protection, direct services and other assistance. However, media reports from 8th August 2022 state that Roma refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine are facing discrimination and prejudice in Romania. There have been similar reports in Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland.
Demonstration marks anniversary of police brutality
On 10th August 2022, demonstrators gathered in remembrance of the 2018 anti-corruption protests against the government. The 2018 demonstration saw approximately 100,000 people protest in front of the government’s headquarters in Budapest. The peaceful protest turned violent when police started violently dispersing crowds using tear gas and used other forceful methods. Hundreds of people pressed charges against the police afterwards, but the investigations and convictions have been limited. At the most recent demonstration on the anniversary of the incident, protestors demanded accountability from those who committed the violent acts and those who gave the order to the police.
Pride march attacked by counter-protesters
On 5th June 2022, hundreds of people gathered to participate in a Pride march in Iasi, the largest city in eastern Romania, organised by Rise OUT, the first LGBTQ non-governmental organisation in Iasi. As the group marched towards the city centre they were attacked by dozens of conservative and religious protestors. The protestors wore anti-LGBTQ shirts, chanted anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, and threw eggs at the marchers. The marchers responded by shouting “shame on you!”. Police were able to intervene and separate the groups before the incident escalated.
Romania in highest risk category for freedom of the press
According to the European Commission’s 2022 Rule of Law Report, Romania is in the highest risk category for freedom of the press. The report noted concerns about transparency regarding content from political parties and media ownership, threats against journalists, and whistleblower protection. At the beginning of July 2022, the European Chief Prosecutor warned Romania of the potential consequences of a new law regarding whistleblowers. Critics of the bill say that the draft law diminishes the protection of whistleblowers, violates constitutional provisions and is out of step with European standards. For example, the law imposes a hierarchy of reporting channels available to whistleblowers and states that whistleblowers must wait at least three months after reporting the matter internally and externally before disclosing violations of the law publicly.
The World Press Freedom Index report for 2022, published by Reporters Without Borders, ranked Romania 56th in the world, dropping eight spots in the index from 2021. The report notes that Romania has a “relatively pluralistic media landscape” but there is a lack of transparency in financing, a lack of independence, and frequent attempts at interference. Other concerns include an aggressive political discourse against journalists, a failure to enforce media protections and an increasing number of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).
Silencing critical voices
Several incidents undermining the freedom of expression and threatening the safety of journalists occurred in the first half of June 2022. Two high-profile casesconcern the censorship and silencing of both politicians and journalists in Romania. On 7th June 2022, former MP Andrei Lupu was accused of slander and voted out of parliament after he criticised his party’s leadership. The same day, journalist and TV personality Christian Tudor Popescu was dismissed from his position at the largest TV station and online media outlet in Romania. The dismissal came after Popescu criticised the platform's editor-in-chief for broadcasting a fake interview, though some allege he was dismissed for criticising recent political developments.
Romania’s Audiovisual Council withdrew the broadcasting licence of NewsRomania, a media outlet that had been fined over a dozen times in the past six months for spreading misinformation about the pandemic and pro-Russia propaganda on the war in Ukraine.