A few hundred Romanians held a march in Bucharest on May 7 against the parliament’s plans to pass a bill on pardons, despite the rainy weather. The Senate, the upper chamber of the parliament, is expected to debate and vote on the draft bill on May 8.
Although much smaller in terms of participants than the mass protests earlier this year, the latest anti-corruption protests seem to be still putting pressure on politicians. In February, the government repealed a controversial emergency decree partly decriminalising abuse of office after the biggest protests in Romania since the fall of communism, with a peak of more than half a million people going out on the streets in just one evening.
This is the second protest organised in Bucharest in the past week. On May 3, around 1,000 people rallied in the Romanian capital after members of the Senate’s legal committee adopted amendments to the draft bill to grant amnesty to people sentenced for corruption. The next day, the senators reversed their decision and held another vote to reject the amendments.
On May 7, the protesters gathered in front of the government’s headquarters and marched to the parliament. People chanted slogans such as “We don’t want to be a people of thieves”, “Romania says no to pardon”, “Thieves”, “We can see you” and “Criminal parliament, go to prison”.
There were some minor incidents as the police tried to prevent the crowds from marching on the street. As usual, the protesters carried EU and US flags, as a sign of respect to the international support received since the protests started.
“I am here again [at the protest] as I believe they are trying to fool us again. We don’t need to pardon anyone, they should build more prisons. They are complaining about the poor conditions in prisons, but often hospitals are worse than prisons. They should first address these issues: poor conditions in hospitals and poor access to education in rural areas. The bad conditions in prisons should be their last concern,” a protester told bne IntelliNews.
Prison overcrowding is the official reason given for the attempts to introduce pardons and weaken anti-corruption legislation. However, the moves will also benefit numerous politicians who have been sentenced or are under investigation in corruption cases.
The event was organised on Facebook, under the name “No to pardoning corrupt people. OUG 13 [the emergency ordinance partly decriminalising abuse of office] is coming back. So are we.”
“We have to make them understand that when they vote in the parliament the amendments submitted by [senators] Serban Nicolae and Traian Basescu (which are in fact a revival of the emergency ordinance 13), our eyes will be on them. Some of them have the impression that if are not physically in front of them, we are not paying attention. Time has come we showed them they are not right,” according to the Facebook event page.
Last month, the Senate’s legal committee adopted another series of amendments, including pardons for sentences of less than three years (compared to five years in the draft bill). Also, according to the approved amendments, sentences of up to 10 years should be shortened by three years, while criminals older than 60 years should see their sentences halved, and those aged 70 or more should be pardoned, according to an earlier report from Hotnews.ro.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) instructed the Romanian government to provide, in cooperation with the committee of ministers, a precise timetable for the implementation of measures to reduce overcrowding in prisons and improve the material conditions of detention, according to the pilot judgement procedure applied by the court on April 25.
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