Corruption decree sparks mass protests in Romania

Thousands of Romanians have spent eight nights marching in cities across the country against a government proposal regarding pardoning of certain committed crimes and amendment of the Penal Code.

Despite the negative reactions, the newly sworn-in government secretly approved the emergency ordinance, regarding the pardoning and amnesty of committed crimes on the night of 31 January, which was not considered constitutional without an input from the parliament.

The prime minster, Sorin Grindeanu, said it will ease the overcrowding in prison but the opposition raised accusations that the ordinance was intended to help current and former politicians to escape ongoing criminal investigations and or prison sentences, including Liviu Dragnea – the leader of the ruling Social Democratic party who was given a two-year suspended prison sentence for vote rigging.

After turning up at one of the protests, the president, Klaus Iohannis, said: “A gang of politicians who have problems with the law want to change the legislation and weaken the state of law … Romanians are rightly indignant.”

The day after the ordinance was passed, more than 150.000 protesters, including elderly people and children, gathered outside the government’s headquarters whilst thousands of others protested in cities all over the country, making these demonstrations the largest since the fall of Communism back in 1989.

So far, the protests have convinced the government to withdraw the ordinance, pending approval or rejection by the parliament, and the country’s justice minister, one of the architects of this document has offered his resignation.

The government hoped that after scrapping the ordinance calm will return to the country, but that hasn’t happened. Despite the emergency corruption decree being revoked, Romanians have continued to protest against the government, with many calling it to quit.

However, the prime minister has stood firm, showing no sign of resignation and saying that his government has a responsibility for the people who voted for them. A revised version of the bill was sent for debate in parliament, where it might be forced through, a fact that is worrying the protesters.

Many in the crowd are afraid that the new legislation, promised by the prime minister, might contain some of the same elements in a different form. “This government is organised from the high level to the low like a mafia, and we don’t want something like this,” one protester, Profira Pop, told the Associated Press news agency.

The Embassies of Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands and the United States released a strong-worded statement against the passing of the ordinances, both in terms of how it was passed, as well as their content. The statement explained that these actions have undermined the rule of law and stifled the fight against corruption. They further explained that the government’s actions risk damaging Romania’s partnership with Europe and NATO.

A protester told Agence France-Presse: “It is obvious that society is becoming unified. We are together … People are coming from other cities to Bucharest in order to change things. We are ready to make Romania a clean country, for our children and for our future.”

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