US Department of State: Romanian Government has partially respected the right to freedom of expression

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The US Department of State has released the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018, which reads that the freedom of expression, a constitutional right, has been partially respected by the Romanian Government. In regard to the protests on August 10, it argues that the pro-government press played an important role in spreading misinformation during the rally.

  • The government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality, but instances of political messaging targeting courts, prosecutors, or judges increased. Some prosecutors and judges complained to the Superior Council of Magistrates that media outlets and politicians’ statements damaged their professional reputations. The council determined some politicians’ public statements infringed on judicial independence.
  • Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits denying the Holocaust and promoting or using the symbols of fascist, racist, xenophobic, or Legionnaire ideologies, the latter being the nationalist, extremist, anti-Semitic interwar movement that was among the perpetrators of the Holocaust in the country.
  • Press and Media Freedom: While independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction, politicians or persons with close ties to politicians and political groups either owned or indirectly controlled numerous media outlets at the national and local levels. The news and editorial stance of these outlets frequently reflected their owners’ views and targeted criticism at political opponents and other media organizations.
  • Mass demonstrations in Bucharest on August 10 sharply criticized the government’s performance on curbing corruption. According to watchdogs and independent reports, progovernment media played a key role in spreading misinformation during the demonstrations. Representatives of the governing party claimed that the August 10 protests were sponsored from abroad and aimed to be a coup d’etat. They presented no evidence to support these claims.
  • The National Audiovisual Council (CNA) and Council Fighting Discrimination (CNCD) avoided sanctioning unprofessional and unethical behavior by media outlets controlled by businessmen and politicians related to the ruling party, while sanctioning reporters criticizing the government. For example, in January the CNCD fined both Republica analyst Cristian Tudor Popescu and Digi24 TV’s Cosmin Prelipceanu 1,000 lei ($250), for criticizing the hairdo of the newly appointed prime minister and for refusing to retract the remark. On June 19, the Bucharest Court of Appeals cancelled the CNCD decision on the grounds that it violated freedom of expression.
  • During the year media outlets, anchors, and commentators controlled by owners who were connected to the government and ruling parties criticized press outlets whose coverage was critical of the ruling parties and their proposed legal curbs on magistrates’ powers.
  • On August 10, at least 15 journalists suffered physical, verbal, or tear gas assaults by gendarmes while monitoring a major anticorruption, antigovernment protest taking place in Bucharest, according to Active Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, and the International and the European Federations of Journalists. According to NGOs, media reports, and testimonies, the journalists abused by gendarmes included Robert Mihailescu (Hotnews.ro), Cristian Stefanescu (Deutsche Welle), Vlad Ursulean (Casa Jurnalistului), Ioana Moldovan (Documentaria.ro), Silviu Matei (Agerpres), Cristian Popa and Cristi Ban (Digi 24), and Robert Reinprecht and Ernst Gelegs (Austrian public television).
  • On November 8, invoking privacy legislation, the National Supervisory Authority for Personal Data Processing (ANSPCP) asked investigative media group Rise Project to disclose the sources of the information they used for the articles they published into suspected cases of fraud and corruption with public money. Reporters’ articles referred to TelDrum, a company based in Teleorman County, allegedly connected to the Chamber of Deputies speaker, who is also the chair of the ruling party, PSD. ANSPCP threatened the group with an unprecedented penalty of a 20 million euro ($23 million) fine if it did not provide access to their databases and ongoing investigations. It was the second consecutive year that Rise Project was subject to harassment by government agencies after it started thorough investigations into the assets of the ruling party chair and his family.
  • Corruption remained a problem according to World Bank indicators and other expert opinion. Bribery was common in the public sector. Laws were not always implemented effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
  • The National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) continued to investigate and prosecute corruption cases involving political, judicial, and administrative officials throughout the year. In April the DNA indicted former finance minister Sebastian Vladescu for accepting bribes and trafficking in influence.
  • Verdicts in corruption cases were often inconsistent, with sentences varying widely for similar offenses. Enforcement of court procedures lagged mostly due to procedural and administrative problems, especially with respect to asset forfeiture.

Read the full Report here.

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