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News 30 Jan 17

Romania Debates Controversial Anti-Graft Decrees

Romania's Justice Ministry started a limited public debate on Monday on controversial decrees that would pardon convicted politicians and decriminalize abuse of office.

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
Some 10,000 people marched through the Romanian capital and other cities on January 29 to protest a government proposal to pardon thousands of prisoners which critics say could reverse the anti-corruption fight. Photo: Vadim Ghirda/AP/Beta

Romanian Justice Minister Florin Iordache has said a public debate on two controversial government decrees - designed to pardon people jailed for less than five years for petty crimes, including corruption, and amend the penal code to remove abuse of office and trading in influence - will start on Monday.

However, the media will not be able to follow the debate and only up to 50 people will be able to attend the sessions, reportedly because the room where they will take place is very small.

Iordache is also due to clarify what form the decrees will take on Monday, meaning emergency decrees, or laws that have to pass through parliament, as well as whether the government will take responsibility for them.

The government's move to adopt the two decrees drafted by Iordache, without submitting them to a debate or consulting parliament, sparked protests in several cities in late January.

On January 29, tens of thousands of people protested against the decrees across Romania. Police stated that about 50,000 protesters gathered in Bucharest alone.

Many saw it as a crude attempt to undermine Romania’s drive against corruption and pardon convicted politicians.

President Klaus Iohannis, who opposes the two decrees and joined protesters on January 22, maintained his opposition to them after meeting officials at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

“I do not exclude pardons. But they can’t be tailored to politicians ... and to those who sit in the parliament,” he pointed out.

Iordache insists that his two drafts are intended only to reduce the outsized prison population in Romania and improve poor detention conditions.

There are 28,000 inmates in Romanian prisons, which are designed to accommodate a maximum of 17,000, a report released in December 2016 by the Romanian human rights organization APADORCH, said.

A report released on January 26 by the European Court for Human Rights, stating that complaints over prison conditions in Romania [and other countries] had risen sharply in 2016, stirred controversy.

The president of the ECHR, Guido Raimondi, said in in Strasbourg that the cases “refer essentially to detention conditions. These are priorities, because it is part of Article 3 of the Convention [on human rights], which forbids inhumane and degrading treatment.

“They are also repetitive, which reflects systemic or structural problems and demands global solutions at the domestic level,” he added, citing the report.

Romania and Turkey are among the countries that receive most such verdicts against them. First was Russia with 228 judgments, then Turkey with 88, and then Romania with 86. Ukraine followed with 73, Greece with 45, and Hungary with 41.   

Bucharest is set to receive a decision in spring 2017 ordering it resolve prison conditions within 18 months, Iohannis announced after meeting Raimondi in Strasbourg, a day before the report was made public.

He also said that for now Romania would not receive any sanctions, but the government will have to come up with an action plan to solve the problem.

Protests spread across Romania’s prisons last July, when inmates expressed their dissatisfaction with poor conditions, despite efforts to reduce overcrowding over the past decade.

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