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Romania criminalises insult

Bad news has reached us from Romania, where the government is reported to have reintroduced criminal sentences for libel and insult cases

By Padraig Reidy / 11 December, 2013

See statement from Romanian civil society groups:

Attacks on freedom of expression: Insult and libel recriminalized

The signatory organizations condemn the anti-democratic practices adopted and exercised by the current parliamentary majority and publicly ask the Romanian President not to promulgate the law through which, surreptitiously, the offenses of libel and insult were reintroduced in the Criminal Code.

In 2006, the Parliament decided to repeal the offenses of insult and libel. In 2007, the Constitutional Court ruled that the offenses of libel and insult are not repealed, then, in 2010, the High Court of Cassation and Justice has ruled that the offenses of insult and libel are abolished, and in 2013 the Constitutional Court ruled again that the offenses of libel and insult are not repealed.

OSCE congratulated Romania after insult and libel were decriminalized. This decriminalization also increased the rating of the country in relevant international rankings, such as those of Reporters Without Borders.

An old bill 2011 (Pl-x 680/2011) proposed the repeal of a single article of the Criminal Code, namely Article 74/1. Under very suspicious circumstances, this bill was radically changed the night before being adopted by the Chamber of Deputies during the plenum of 10 December 2013 (“The International Human Rights Day”) by introducing, among other provisions, the offenses of libel and insult.

This decision, taken without any public consultation made useless ten years of efforts made ​​by the society for the decriminalization of insult and libel. It eliminates Romania from the  democracies who reject the idea that a man can be imprisoned for his words.

We remind politicians that the decisions of the Constitutional Court quoted as a pretext for introducing the offenses of insult and libel in the Criminal Code must comply with the European Convention on Human Rights and the jurisprudence of the ECHR – which have the force of law in Romania. Imposing an obligation on defamation to be criminally sanctioned is not supported by any article of the European Convention on Human Rights and of any judgment by the European Court of Human Rights.

On the other hand, due to the haste with which the amendments to the Criminal Code were adopted, another obsolete article was passed, namely Article 207 – burden of proof. This article is in manifest contradiction with ECHR jurisprudence, demanding those who make a statement to prove the absolute truth of the facts narrated, proof impossible in many situations, especially when it comes to journalistic investigations in complex cases. According to the jurisprudence of the ECHR (see case Dalban v. Romania, for example), those who make a statement, even false / exaggerated, cannot be penalized in any way if they prove the existence of a reasonable factual basis for their statement.

It is imperative that Articles 205-207, which recriminalize insult and libel be removed from the Criminal Code. The current form of the law is a serious assault on press freedom and freedom of expression in general.

The signatory organizations ask the Romanian President not to promulgate this law through which, clandestinely, the offenses of libel and insult were reintroduced in the Criminal Code.

Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania – the Helsinki Committee

ActiveWatch

Association for Technology and Internet

Center for Independent Journalism

 

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About Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy Padraig Reidy is former senior writer at Index on Censorship. He has also written for the Observer, the Guardian, and the Irish Times.

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