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Romanian president urged to counter recriminalisation of libel

Romanian President Traian Basescu gestures during an interview with the Associated Press in Bucharest, Romania, 7 March 2013.
Romanian President Traian Basescu gestures during an interview with the Associated Press in Bucharest, Romania, 7 March 2013.

AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

The undersigned organizations condemn the anti-democratic practices adopted and exercised by the current parliamentary majority and publicly ask the Romanian president not to promulgate a law through which, surreptitiously, the offenses of libel and insult have been reintroduced into 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 In 2007, the Constitutional Court ruled that the offenses of libel and insult should not be repealed. Then, in 2010, the High Court of Cassation and Justice ruled that the offenses of insult and libel would be abolished. Finally, in 2013, the Constitutional Court once again ruled that the offenses of libel and insult are not repealed.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (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.

A 2011 bill (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 ("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 an individual can be imprisoned for their 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 European Court of Human Rights (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 or any judgment made 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 to ECHR jurisprudence, as it demands those who make a statement to prove the absolute truth of the facts narrated. This proof is 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 if it is false or 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.

ActiveWatch – Media Monitoring Agency
Center for Independent Journalism - Romania

Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania - the Helsinki Committee
Association for Technology and Internet

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
  • IFJ/EFJ Appeal to Romanian authorities to prevent amendments re-criminalising defamation

    "The reintroduction by Parliament of such crimes as insult, slander and libel in the Penal Code, without consultation with the public or relevant organisations, is a serious attack on the right to freedom of expression and is designed to intimidate those people who represent public interest and criticise the structure of power in Romanian society," said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. "It is absolutely imperative that these proposed amendments are removed from the Penal Code and are not allowed to take effect."

  • SEEMO urges Romania to reject criminal libel

    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.

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