Mass protests continue over weakening of anti-corruption laws

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.