Anti-corruption protests erupt again in Bucharest

Anti-corruption protests erupt again in Bucharest
By Carmen Simion in Bucharest May 3, 2017

More than 1,000 people protested in Bucharest on May 3, after senators amended a draft bill to grant amnesty to people sentenced for corruption. The protest, although smaller than those organised earlier this year, is a sign that Romanians have not given up the fight against corruption, one of the country’s main problems.

Earlier on May 3 the legal committee in the Romanian Senate adopted earlier amendments to the government’s draft pardoning bill, according to which criminals sentenced for bribe taking or giving and influence peddling would also be pardoned, local media reported.  Initially, in the government’s draft bill, corruption sentences were excluded from the list of sentences eligible for pardons.

The decision of the senators to grant amnesty also to people convicted for corruption triggered a protest in the capital, with more than 1,000 people showing their dissatisfaction with the MPs’ decision. People gathered, as usual, in front of the government’s headquarters chanting slogans such as “In democracy, thieves stay in prison”, “Thieves” and “Romania says no to pardon”, and waving Romanian, EU and US flags.

The bill on pardons, as well as the government’s plan to amend criminal legislation so that abuse of office is partly decriminalised, were unpopular with many Romanians. Mass protests erupted in the country at the end of January and the government gave in to pressure and decided to repeal the controversial decree partly decriminalising abuse of office. 

However, the government has continued to work on the pardons bill, which has remained a point of focus for MPs. They have used the poor conditions in Romanian prisons as a pretext for drafting the legislation on pardons and amending criminal legislation.

The report from the legal committee will be sent for a vote in the senate and then to the Chamber of Deputies to be debated. The final decision belongs to the Chamber of Deputies.

The amendments received five votes in favour, from senators of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and its coalition partner the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (Alde), and three against, from senators of the National Liberal Party (PNL), the Save Romania Union (USR) and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians Romania (UDMR), according to News.ro. 

The amendments were filed by PSD senator Serban Nicolae and Liviu Brailoiu and former president and current People's Movement Party (PMP) senator Traian Basescu.

According to Nicolae, the pardons bill will apply only to acts of corruption committed before January this year.

The amendments to the pardon bill were voted on by the PSD committee members despite the fact that PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, who has received a two-year suspended sentence for vote manipulation and is being tried for instigation of abuse of office, previously promised that Nicolae would withdraw his amendments, Digi24.ro reported in March.

“I have proposed that bribe taking should be pardoned, considering that a possible pardon will be made with the recovery of the damage,” Basescu said, according to News.ro. “It is easy to understand what mobilises me. Until the latest bill on electoral campaign funding, all parties can be accused, as it has already happened with many people, of both bribe taking and abuse of office,” he added.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said he was “unpleasantly surprised” by the vote in the legal committee.

Last week, 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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