20,000 protest in Bucharest against planned changes to justice system

20,000 protest in Bucharest against planned changes to justice system
20,000 Romanians protest against government plans to weaken judicial independence
By bne IntelliNews November 6, 2017

Around 20,000 Romanians marched in Bucharest on November 5 to protest against the planned changes to the country’s justice system which are seen to increase political control over the judiciary.

The protest will put even more pressure on the government, which has already been criticized for its planned measures in the judiciary and fiscal sectors. Romanian trade union confederation CNSLR Fratia announced on November 2 it has decided to start procedures to launch general strike, following the government’s decision to transfer social security contributions entirely to the employees. 

Romania was the scene of mass anti governmental protests, the largest since the fall of communism, in winter, when the government adopted an emergency decree to partly decriminalise abuse of office – a move which was seen as a significant step backwards in Romania’s anti-corruption fight.  The ordinance was revoked, but the government moved on with plans to change legislation in the sector. The planned changes have been criticized by the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) and the judges forum, while the magistrates body, the CSM, has already issued a negative review on the proposals.

Around 20,000 people marched in Bucharest, while smaller protests were organised in other Romanian cities as well as abroad. The total number of protesters was estimated by Digi24 television channel at 35,000.

The protests were organised on Facebook, the same as those organised back in winter. “The judicial inspection will become a political tool in the hands of the justice minister,” the organisers of the protest wrote. The appointment of the chief prosecutors by the minister, without any control by the president would mean that the general prosecutors office will be subordinated to political interests, they added.

The protesters were also unhappy that the senators gave last week a negative review to a draft bill banning those with criminal convictions to hold the president post.

“If these bills are adopted by the parliament, it would be a disaster for Romania and its citizens. We can say good bye to independent justice. We are not alone in this fight. Both the magistrates and the president of the European Commission showed they are against these laws,” the Facebook page of the event wrote.

The protest on November 5 started as usual in Victory Square in Bucharest, in front of the government’s headquarters. The protesters marched through the city and then stopped in front of the Palace of the Parliament.

The protesters chanted slogans such as “Justice, not corruption”, “We don’t want to be a country of thieves”, “PSD, the red plague”, “Thieves”, and “Tudorel, [the justice minister] resign.”

The planned changes to judicial legislation have been recently criticized by President Klaus Iohannis who did not rule out the organization of a referendum on the topic. However, he admitted some provisions in the amendments are needed in order to put the current legislation in line with rulings of the Constitutional Court and European legislation.

“I am open to use all the presidential power in order to intervene in this process, meaning to keep justice independence,” Iohannis said.

Iohannis announced in January he will start procedures to organise a referendum on the continuation of the anti-corruption fight. The president announced the plan the day after he attended a massive rally in Bucharest against the government’s plans to use an emergency decree to amend criminal legislation, partly decriminalising abuse of office. Unnamed sources close to the Romanian presidency told local media in March Iohannis has not given up plans to launch the referendum and will do it if the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) tries again the weaken criminal legislation or attacks key institutions in the judiciary system.