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Monday, 16 December 2013

SEEMO urges Romania to reject criminal libel

Call follows Parliament approval of package last week 

A man waves the national flag during a protest in front of Victoria palace, Romania's government headquarters, in Bucharest on Dec. 15, 2013. Hundreds of Romanians marched in Bucharest to protest against parliament approving a bill that increases the immunity of deputies from corruption charges. Under the bill, members of parliament would no longer be subject to investigation under corruption allegations linked to public office - such as abuse of power or conflict of interest - due to a change in their status. The changes, which were passed in record time and with little debate, raised sharp criticism from the country's president, opposition politicians, pro-democracy groups and Western diplomats for undermining the rule of law. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

VIENNA, Dec 16, 2013 – The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), today urged Romania’s president to follow through on his pledge to reject legislation that would criminalise libel and insult.

President Traian Basescu reportedly pledged not to sign a package that would add libel and insult back to the country’s criminal code, in addition to abolishing a number of anti-corruption mechanisms, after Parliament approved the measure on Tuesday.

If Basescu follows through on his pledge, the package will return back to Parliament for further action.

“We ask the president of Romania to follow through on his commitment not to approve these changes to Romanian law, as they would be a step backward for media freedom and the development of democracy in the country”, SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic said. “In the event that these measures are returned to Parliament, we strongly hope that lawmakers will not adopt similar measures again.”

Parliament made the change with respect to libel and insult law last week following a series of initiatives and court decisions over the last seven years that have left the offences’ status unclear.

In 2006, Parliament amended the criminal code to repeal Articles 205 to 207 and 236.1, removing all insult and calumny offences. One year later, Romania’s Constitutional Court ruled that the repeal was contrary to the Constitution. The country’s High Court for Cassation and Justice in 2010 threw out the offences, but the Constitutional Court again in 2013 determined that the offences were not repealed.

“If it is necessary to change Romania’s Constitution in order to ensure that libel and insult are not criminal offences, Romania should do so and the country should harmonise its legal system with best practices in Europe and in accordance with international recommendations,” Vujovic commented. “Such a change would be important for both Romania and Europe. Articles 205-207 should be removed from the Criminal Code and Romania, as an EU country, should set a positive example for legal regulation in Europe.”

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