Writers in Prison Committee

With regard to the recent sentences to prison for “offence against the authority” (art. 238 Penal Code) the Romanian PEN Center states his indignation and his protest.
Romanian PEN is in accord with the positions of the others Romanian human rights organizations, summarized in the following opinion of the “Helsinki Committee” from Bucharest (APADOR-CH):
1. Sector 1 First Instance Court pronounced the sentence against the two journalists while the Constitutional Court was still debating the constitutionality of offence against the authority. It is true that the law does not stipulate that judgment be automatically suspended until the Constitutional Court adopts a decision, the instance having full discretion to decide on this aspect, but practice has demonstrated that in various cases courts have waited for the Constitutional Court to issue a decision first. Such a solution is the only one consistent with the provisions of art.145 of the Constitution, according to which “Decisions of the Constitutional Court shall be binding and effective only for the future”.
2. The decision reached by Sector 1 First Instance Court, which confirms a legal text that questions the very issue of the freedom of expression, runs clearly counter to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which is a part of the Romanian domestic law. The European Convention should be read and enforced together with the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg European Court for Human Rights. Several of its decisions establish that “freedom of expression, guaranteed by article 10, paragraph 1, is one of the essential foundations of a democratic society… Subject to paragraph 2 of article 10, it is applicable not only to information or ideas that are favorably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb… Such are the requirements of pluralism, tolerance and open spirit without which a democratic society cannot exist”. All these are “so much important when the press comes into discussion”, as “freedom of the press represents one of the most effective means by which the public find out or form an opinion relating to the ideas and attitudes of political leaders” (Sunday Times v. The United Kingdom, Lingens v. Austria, Oberschlick v. Austria etc.).
In comparison with the situation in states with a well-established democratic tradition, the “offense against the authority” provided for in the Romanian legislation is outdated. Even if similar crimes still exist in some European legislation, they have not been enforced in a long time. According to information held by APADOR-CH and international human rights non-governmental organizations, there have been no cases of journalists sentenced to prison for insult, libel, and offense against the authority in any democratic country for the past 10-15 years.
3. The sentence pronounced against the two journalists from the daily “Ziua” confirms the ever clearer trend to deter journalists from voicing their critical attitude against Romanian authorities and their representatives. In this sense, several other cases of journalists are worth mentioning: Radu Mazare and Constantin Cumpana from Constanta (sentenced for “insult and libel” to 7 month in prison, lei 25 million in damages and a one-year interdiction to perform their proffesion), Valentin Popescu from Constanta (sentenced for “libel” to a 3 month term in prison with suspension that he appealed), Dumitru Tinu, director of “Adevarul” (penal fine for “libel”; the appeal is pending), Petre Mihai Bacanu, director of “Romania Libera” (penal fine for “libel”, the appeal is also pending). Irrespective of whether they are final or not, whether they consist in penal fine or a term in prison, either suspended or not, the outcome of these penal sentences will be the instatement of censorship and self-censorship of the press and therefore a restriction of the freedom of expression beyond the limits admitted and “necessary in a democratic society”. The Romanian PEN Center has nothing to add to this well documented and correct judicial analysis except that all these intimidating attempts and suppression forms are directed exclusively against the independent press, whereas the extremist media, which proved lack of temperance even in their offences to authorities, have never been indicted.

Ana Blandiana