Romania's Senate Rejects Toned-Down Pardon Bill

The upper chamber of Romania’s parliament has rejected a weakened pardon bill, that would have excluded the offence of corruption from its provisions.


Romania’s Senate on Monday refused to pass a controversial pardoning bill which no longer contains the most contentious amendments – on pardoning corruption-related offences. Senators voted to send the bill back to the legal commission to re-discuss it within the next week.

The Social Democrat-dominated government has faced major public protests as well as international criticism over moves to get convicted criminals out of jail early. While the government said it wanted to free up space in overcrowded jails, its critics accused it of trying to please corrupt politicians. The latest form of the bill included a pardon for prison sentences of up to three years, a three-year reduction in sentences of up to ten years, the halfing of sentences for pregnant women, and full pardons for people over 70.

Senators last Thursday voted down amendments offering an amnesty for graft-related offences, only a day after they had agreed to pass the bill – after activists mobilised on social media calling for renewed public protests. Several amendments proposed by former President Traian Basescu were also rejected by the Senate’s Legal Committee, including full pardons for pregnant women jailed for corruption.

Up to 2,000 people gathered last Wednesday in front of the government building in Bucharest, chanting: “We don’t want to be a country of thieves!” Drivers on Thursday circled the parliament honking horns in protest. The protests continued until Sunday when a few hundred demonstrators marched to the parliament.

Had the new bill been passed, 453 prisoners would have qualified for pardons and another 589 would have had sentences reduced by three years, according to Romania’s National Prison Administration ANP. Among those pardoned would be nine minors and one man over 70.

Liberal senator Alina Gorghiu told the debate in the Senate that the amended bill no longer served much of a purpose. “The law in this form is just caprice. It doesn’t serve the proposed objective, it doesn’t pardon enough people to take the pressure off the prison system,”

Former President Traian Basescu also rejected the bill. “It it only releases petty thieves from prison, the government should give it up,” he told the Senate on Monday.

Corruption offences were taken out of the bill after the cabinet under Sorin Grindeanu repealed a similar decree in February that would have shielded dozens of public officials from prosecution. The decree drew strong international criticism and triggered the largest street protests since the 1989 revolution.

President Klaus Iohannis on Monday criticised the ruling Social Democrats, PSD, for trying to pass “reckless legislation”, adding that such decisions might affect other important projects, including Romania’s hopes of joining the EU’s passport-free Schengen area. “The only country that really opposes Romania’s joining Schengen is actually Romania: by the unfortunate way we adopt legislation, by the unfortunate way we issue decrees, in general by the unfortunate way we prove we don’t know what we want,” he said in an interview, talking about Decree 13, the pardoning decree.

“On the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism side, where justice is a priority, we look good, the justice system is doing its job. But …  approaches like Decree 13, although they’re now gone, show European politicians that Romania is still not stable in terms of rule of law.”

Anti-graft prosecutors in the National Anticorruption Directorate, DNA, have in recent years indicted a growing number of lawmakers, local officials, mayors and ministers for abuse of office, influence peddling and bribery.

But Romania is still seen as one of the most corrupt countries in the EU and its justice system remains under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, an EU monitoring measure, alongside Bulgaria.

The European Commission has repeatedly praised Romania’s judiciary for its progress in prosecuting graft, but its most recent report at the end of January noted that Romania’s parliament has a track record of trying to weaken such efforts.

Balkan Insight
8 May 2017
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