Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media that police and gendarmes mistreated and abused Roma, asylum seekers, minors, and other persons primarily with excessive force, including beatings.
The most recent report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), published in 2019, found, “a large number of allegations of physical ill-treatment (many of which were corroborated by medical evidence) by police officers were received from detained persons. The allegations consisted primarily of slaps, punches, kicks and baton blows inflicted by police officers against criminal suspects either at the time of the arrest or during questioning at a police station, apparently for the primary purpose of coercing a confession.”
In August the prosecutor’s office attached to the Bucharest County Court indicted seven police officers for torture, illegal deprivation of liberty, abusive behavior, and forgery. The seven officers, in addition to two others, were originally detained on March 5. In September 2020 the officers had detained and abused two persons who admonished them for not wearing face masks. The officers reportedly handcuffed one of the individuals, took him to a field at the outskirts of Bucharest, beat him for 30 minutes, and subjected him to degrading treatment. Police officers handcuffed the other individual, transported him to a dangerous area of Bucharest, and abandoned him in a dark alley. The prosecutor’s office attached to the Bucharest Tribunal started a criminal investigation against the officers for illegal deprivation of liberty and torture.
As of November the prosecutor’s office attached to the Giurgiu County Court was investigating a member of the police for abusive behavior. In April 2020 media outlets circulated a video showing the chief of police and a subordinate in the town of Bolintin Vale in Giurgiu County beating several Romani persons immobilized in handcuffs on the ground and verbally abusing them for speaking in the Romani language. In 2020 the Ministry of Interior announced it had dismissed the chief of police and started an investigation of the incident.
The 2019 CPT report noted, “a considerable number of allegations of physical ill-treatment of prisoners by prison staff were received, notably by members of the masked intervention groups, in the prisons of Aiud, Gherla, Iasi and Galati. The situation was particularly alarming at Galati Prison where a climate of fear was evident. The report details several allegations of physical ill-treatment including sexual abuse by staff and raises serious concerns over the lack of recording of injuries by the health-care service and failures to investigate allegations effectively.”
The 2019 CPT report stressed “repeated and numerous detailed allegations” of inmate abuse by “masked intervention groups” – prison guards who wear body armor, balaclavas, helmets, batons, gloves, which the CPT described as “designed to intimidate prisoners.”
During the year authorities’ investigations into two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by Romanian peacekeepers originally reported in 2017 continued. The cases involved military observers deployed in UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. One case involved the alleged sexual abuse (rape) of a minor. The peacekeeper in question was repatriated by the United Nations. The other case involved alleged sexual exploitation (transactional sex).
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly among police and gendarmerie. Police officers were frequently exonerated in cases of alleged beatings and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Prosecutors are responsible for investigating abuses. The Directorate for Internal Review within the Romanian Police can conduct, under prosecutorial supervision, criminal investigations of abuses committed by members of the police as well as internal administrative investigations. The government took the following steps to increase respect for human rights by the security forces: members of the police and gendarmerie received training on a wide range of human rights issues, including gender equality, abuse against children, prevention of torture, gender-based violence, and preventing discrimination; police schools and academies reserved several seats for admission opened only to persons of Romani ethnicity; police schools and academies, as well as gendarmerie schools, provided training to students, noncommissioned officers, and officers on racism, discrimination, and diversity.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained harsh and overcrowded and did not meet international standards. The abuse of prisoners by authorities and other prisoners reportedly continued to be a problem.
Physical Conditions: According to official figures, overcrowding was a problem, particularly in those prisons that did not meet the standard of 43 square feet per prisoner set by the Council of Europe. The 2019 CPT report noted, “Prison overcrowding was not evenly spread among or within prisons, and the most serious levels were observed in closed regime, pretrial and admission (quarantine) cells.” The CPT noted that at Bacau Prison, “18 young adults in pretrial detention were held in a single dilapidated and overcrowded cell measuring a mere 26 square meters [280 square feet]. The young men were confined to their cell for 21 to 22 hours a day for months on end.”
According to the National Penitentiary Administration, men and women, juveniles and adults, and pretrial detainees and convicted persons were not held together.
Media outlets, NGOs, and the ombudsperson reported that prisoners regularly assaulted and abused fellow inmates, generally with impunity. The 2019 CPT report noted, “The delegation documented several cases of interprisoner violence whereby young prisoners in particular have been severely ill-treated and sexually abused by other prisoners for prolonged periods in their cells” and further noted that prison staff at several facilities appeared not to intervene, prevent, or deter prisoner-on-prisoner violence.
Physical conditions remained generally poor within the prison system, and observers noted insufficient spending on repair and retrofitting. The 2019 CPT report noted, “Material conditions in all the prisons visited were generally poor (e.g., flaking walls, humid, poor access to natural light and inadequate ventilation; sanitary annexes often had mold on the ceilings and walls, rusting pipes, and broken fixtures).”
The Association for the Defense of Human Rights-Helsinki Committee (ADHR-HC) stated that some pretrial detention facilities had inadequate conditions, particularly in terms of hygiene. Such facilities were often located in basements and had no natural light and inadequate sanitation.
Several prisons provided insufficient medical care, and inmates complained that food quality was poor and sometimes insufficient in quantity. In some prisons heating and ventilation were inadequate. According to the ADHR-HC, inmates did not have access to adequate counseling, and many psychologist and social-worker positions were not filled. Persons with mental disorders did not receive sufficient care and were frequently isolated from other inmates.
According to the 2019 CPT report, prison authorities in some facilities kept prisoners confined to their cells for long periods without opportunity for exercise or movement.
Administration: Inmates can file complaints with law enforcement agencies and judges. Independent authorities did not always investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitors or religious observance.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits occurred during the year. The ombudsperson also visited prisons as part of her mandate to monitor places of confinement.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, although in practice the government did not completely respect judicial independence and impartiality. The Superior Council of Magistrates is the country’s judicial governance body, meant to ensure judicial independence and impartiality.
There were reports that judicial and prosecutorial independence was compromised by government bodies with the power to discipline or retaliate against judges and prosecutors for their decisions. Despite a May 18 European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) ruling that found the Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary inconsistent with EU law, the government did not dismantle the entity. The Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary was established in 2018 and has been criticized by judicial and law enforcement stakeholders for intimidating judges and prosecutors. The Superior Council of Magistrate’s investigative body, the Judicial Inspectorate, has been accused of using its authority to intimidate judges who spoke out against the Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary and advocated for reform in the justice system. The Judicial Inspectorate used disciplinary measures against prosecutors and judges who sought international courts’ rulings on the Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary or who had spoken publicly regarding corruption in the judicial system. On June 14, the Judicial Inspectorate opened an investigation into a judge in Pitesti who ruled that the existence of the Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary was illegal, based on the May 18 ECJ ruling.
On December 13, the Superior Council of Magistrates dismissed proreform judge Cristi Danilet for alleged “social media misconduct” after he posted TikTok videos in which he was practicing martial arts and trimming hedges in his yard that the council deemed indecorous. Civil society and opinion makers reported that Danilet was removed for his vocal criticism of controversial, corruption-friendly changes to the justice laws during the previous Social Democratic Party-led government. Danilet could appeal the council’s decision. A European Commission’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism report on June 8 also noted a pattern of Judicial Inspectorate disciplinary proceedings against judges and prosecutors who drew attention to corruption.
The constitution and the law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Under the law defendants enjoy the right to the presumption of innocence, have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, and have the right to free linguistic interpretation, as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials should take place without undue delay, but delays were common due to heavy caseloads and procedural inconsistencies, as well as a lack of sufficient personnel, physical space, and technology necessary to enable the judiciary to act swiftly and efficiently.
Defendants have the right to be present at trial. The law provides for the right to counsel and the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law requires that the government provide an attorney to juveniles in criminal cases; the Ministry of Justice paid local bar associations to provide attorneys to indigent clients. Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them (unless the witness is an undercover agent) and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law generally provides for the right of defendants and their attorneys to view and consult case files, but prosecutors may restrict access to evidence for such reasons as protecting the victim’s rights and national security. Both prosecutors and defendants have a right of appeal. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves and have the right to abstain from making statements.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Judicial and administrative remedies are available to individuals and organizations for abuses of human rights by government agencies. Plaintiffs may appeal adverse judgments involving alleged abuses of human rights by the state to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after exhausting the avenues of appeal in domestic courts. According to the civil society coalition European Implementation Network, over the previous 10 years the government had not fully implemented 97 ECHR judgements concerning significant or systemic human rights problems.
Property Seizure and Restitution
According to the National Authority for Property Restitution, the Jewish community is entitled to receive compensation for buildings and land that belonged to the Judaic religious denomination or legal entities of the Jewish community and that were confiscated between September 6, 1940, and December 22, 1989. Individuals are entitled to compensation only for real estate confiscated between 1945 and 1989. The government has laws and mechanisms in place to address Holocaust-era property claims.
The law for returning property seized by the former communist and fascist regimes includes a “points” system to compensate claimants where restitution of the original property is not possible. Claimants may use the points to bid in auctions of state-owned property or exchange them for monetary compensation. Local authorities hindered property restitution by failing to complete a land inventory stipulated by law. In April the Association for Private Property stated that the land inventory was not completed. The government twice extended the deadline for the inventory’s completion in 2013 and 2014.
There were numerous disputes over church buildings and property that the Romanian Orthodox Church failed to return to the Greek Catholic Church, despite court orders to do so. The government did not take effective action to return churches confiscated by the post-World War II communist government. There continued to be lengthy delays in processing claims related to properties owned by national minority communities. Under the law there is a presumption of abusive transfer that applies to restitution of private property but not to religious or communal property. In many cases documents attesting to the abusive transfer of such properties to state ownership no longer existed. Religious and national minorities are not entitled to compensation for nationalized buildings that were demolished.
Associations of former owners asserted that the points compensation system was ineffective and criticized the restitution law for failing to resolve cases fairly, as well as for lengthy delays and corruption. While the pace of resolving restitution cases at the administrative level increased, the number of properties returned involving churches and national minorities was disproportionately low. The number of cases resolved annually has remained approximately constant over the past three years (an average of 1,300), but the number of positive decisions remained extremely low. Religious communities disputing these rulings continued to go to court and incur additional costs. As of October there were 3,852 pending requests for restitution from religious denominations.
According to advocates of the Jewish community, the disappearance of entire document repositories, combined with limited access to other archives, prevented the Jewish community from filing certain claims before the legal deadlines. The National Authority for Property Restitution rejected most restitution claims concerning former Jewish communal properties during its administrative procedures. The Caritatea Foundation, established by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania and World Jewish Restitution Organization to claim communal properties, challenged these negative National Authority for Property Restitution decisions in court. The World Jewish Restitution Organization also reported that the restitution of heirless private Jewish properties was not completed and that there was insufficient research concerning property that had belonged to Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government partially respected this right. Independent media organizations noted excessive politicization of media, corrupt financing mechanisms, as well as editorial policies subordinated to political parties and owners’ interests. Reporters and civil society representatives said their freedom of expression was also limited by restricted access to information of public interest issued by the government and public institutions, including expenses, contracts, or bids involving public funds, and officials’ academic records, and pandemic records. Reporters and NGOs often had to sue state-controlled ministries, agencies, or local entities to access public information.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits Holocaust denial and promoting or using symbols representing fascist, racist, xenophobic ideologies, or symbols associated with the interwar nationalist, extremist, fascist, and anti-Semitic Legionnaire movement. On February 4, a Bucharest court found former intelligence officer Vasile Zarnescu guilty of Holocaust denial and sentenced him to a deferred prison sentence of 13 months and two years’ probation. The defendant wrote articles that described the Holocaust as a “fraud.”
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction, politicians, or those with close ties to politicians and political groups, either owned or indirectly controlled numerous media outlets. The news and editorial stance of these outlets frequently reflected their owners’ views and targeted criticism at political opponents and other media organizations.
Violence and Harassment: Some reporters throughout the country continued to be harassed, sued, or threatened by authorities they investigated or by their proxies.
On December 11, Bucharest police detained Italian journalist Lucia Goracci and her crew working for Italian state television broadcaster RAI at the request of Senator Diana Sosoaca, who held them against their will in her office during a previously agreed interview regarding her antivaccination views. Goracci stated that the senator’s husband Dumitru Silvestru Sosoaca bit her hand and accused police of following the senator’s orders instead of protecting the journalist and her crew. The RAI team was released by police after the Italian embassy’s intervention. As of December several criminal investigations were ongoing in connection with this case.
On May 24, the Bucharest Court of Appeals sentenced former dean of the Police Academy, Adrian Iacob, and his deputy, Mihail Marcoci, to a three-year suspended prison sentence, 120 hours of community service, and 80,000 lei ($18,900) in victim’s compensation for inciting a police officer to blackmail and issue death threats against a reporter, Emilia Sercan. Sercan and the National Anticorruption Directorate appealed the sentence. In 2019 Sercan received death threats after an investigative journalism article she wrote in PressOne.ro alleged several cases of plagiarism of Police Academy doctoral dissertations, including the dean’s dissertation. Sercan’s investigation led to the Police Academy losing its right to award doctorate degrees.
On September 16, a group of 20 individuals armed with axes and sticks attacked and beat journalist and filmmaker Mihai Dragolea, director Radu Constantin Mocanu, and environmental activist Tiberiu Bosutar, who were documenting illegal logging in a Suceava County forest. Media outlets reported that two of the victims lost consciousness and their film equipment was destroyed by the attackers. Four of the 20 individuals were arrested and later released and placed under judicial monitoring by prosecutors. The case remained ongoing as of October.
State officials filed baseless civil and criminal cases against investigative journalists, impeding the operation of some media outlets.
For example, throughout the year the mayor of Bucharest Sector 4, Daniel Baluta, filed more than 30 civil court cases and administrative complaints against the Libertatea newspaper and demanded the paper stop mentioning his name in their reporting. From May 20-21, the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism interrogated senior editors and employees from Libertatea and Newsweek Romania in response to Baluta’s claims that the reporters had formed an organized crime group to blackmail him. Both outlets had published investigative journalism article regarding Baluta’s mishandling of public tenders and contracts. Local and international media freedom watchdogs, including Reporters Without Borders, called on authorities to investigate the directorate’s handling of the case and intimidating interrogation methods. In June the directorate dropped some of the charges against the reporters and sent the remaining cases to the National Anticorruption Directorate. The case remained pending as of November.
The government did not systematically restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
On June 1, the ECHR ordered the country to pay 60,000 euros ($69,000) in compensation to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) rights NGO ACCEPT for failure of police and prosecutors to prevent and investigate the violent disruption of a 2013 cultural event. Despite police presence, approximately 45 far-right protesters entered a cinema, threatened viewers, and shouted homophobic slurs during an event that showcased a movie dedicated to LBGTQI+ history month. ACCEPT and five individuals took the case to the ECHR after prosecutors closed the case in 2014 and 2017 without indicting any of the perpetrators.