Photo: “People hold placards reading ‘All for justice’ during a protest in Bucharest” (Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images, via the Guardian)

Published on 29/11/2017

Sunday night, a typical time for protests in Romania, about 30,000 protesters went out on the streets of Bucharest while up to 20,000 demonstrated elsewhere in the country, according to the Guardian. The people were protesting a government draft law which is criticized for possibly putting the judicial system under political control, reported Euronews. Earlier this year, these latest protests had been preceded by Romania’s biggest protests since the 1989 revolution. To learn more, you can consult this article about Lessons for democracy from Romania’s protest movement by Srdja Popovic and Cristian Sallai, also featured on CANVAS’ page in June.

During the protests on Sunday which included brief scuffling with police in Bucharest, wrote the Guardian, Romanians demanded “rights and prosperity”, shouted “Thieves” and “We want justice not corruption”, blowing whistles while they marched. An especially creative and humorous protest sign read “I’ve seen smarter cabinets at IKEA”, as seen on Euronews. According to the Guardian, new protests on Friday, a national public holiday in Romania, have been called for on social media.

And not only protesters are criticizing the proposed bill. Their criticism has been joined by the European Commission, foreign diplomats and thousands of magistrates, wrote Euronews. The news outlet further reported about Laura Kövesi, head of Romania’s anti-corruption directorate (DNA), saying that “’If voted through it will have a serious negative impact on the independence of justice and it will result in political control of prosecutors’ activity’”. She added that “’It will lead to the political subordination of the prosecutors and could seriously obstruct the anti-corruption fight”, stating that “’In my view the independence of justice is not a privilege for the magistrate – it is a fundamental principle in a democratic society.’” According to the Guardian, the national and international critics have claimed that the government seeks to protect senior figures from justice.

In the bill, the government seeks to reform organizations “at the forefront of Romania’s attempts to tackle corruption” which according to the government’s opponents would reduce the power of the DNA as the justice ministry would be able to name the head prosecutors, wrote the Guardian. A judicial inspection body overseeing the work of judges would also be controlled by the ministry, while a new structure staffed by prosecutors to investigate criminal acts by magistrates is being developed. Contested judicial changes also include the president’s right to veto candidates, stated Euronews. These proposed reforms have especially incited public protest as they coincide with changes to the tax system, making employees responsible for social security payments, instead of the employer, reflected the Guardian.

The news outlet meanwhile reports that some experts have said, the proposal does have some positive aspects like including greater transparency and parliamentary scrutiny of the secret services’ work. And according to Euronews, some critics of Kövesi called her anti-corruption drive ‘a politicized witch hunt’ and denounced DNA’s alleged closeness to Romania’s secret service. The Romanian government itself has said their proposal did not include anything allowing the state to take control of the justice system, and it called for a discussion about specific points to be addressed and a reflection of arguments of both sides.

The current government is a coalition between the center-left Social Democrat Party (PSD), the center-right Liberal-Democrat Alliance and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania. The PSD has been criticized for “harbouring former figures from the communist regime”, and its leader Liviu Dragnea has been and is involved and past and current accusations for fraud and corruption, banned from becoming prime minister after a conviction for vote-rigging, reported the Guardian.

Read more about Sunday’s protests in Romania and its background here and here, and learn more about the protests at the beginning of the year, here.