Romania is a constitutional republic with a democratic, multiparty parliamentary system. The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, both elected by popular vote. The country held parliamentary elections in 2016 that observers generally considered to be free and fair and without irregularities. In 2014 the country held presidential elections in which electoral observers noted irregularities, including insufficient polling stations for the large diaspora community.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included endemic official corruption and police violence against the Roma.
The judiciary took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but authorities delayed proceedings involving alleged police abuse. The result was that many of the cases ended in acquittals.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government partially respected this right. Independent organizations such as Media Monitoring Agency, Freedom House, and Center for Independent Journalism noted excessive politicization of the media, corrupt financing mechanisms, and editorial policies subordinated to owner interests.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits denying the Holocaust and promoting or using the symbols of fascist, racist, xenophobic, or Legionnaire ideologies, the latter being the nationalist, extremist, anti-Semitic interwar movement that was among the perpetrators of the Holocaust in the country.
Press and Media Freedom: While independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction, politicians or persons with close ties to politicians and political groups either owned or indirectly controlled numerous media outlets at the national and local levels. The news and editorial stance of these outlets frequently reflected their owners’ views and targeted criticism at political opponents and other media organizations.
Mass demonstrations in Bucharest on August 10 sharply criticized the government’s performance on curbing corruption. According to watchdogs and independent reports, progovernment media played a key role in spreading misinformation during the demonstrations. Representatives of the governing party claimed that the August 10 protests were sponsored from abroad and aimed to be a coup d’etat. They presented no evidence to support these claims.
The National Audiovisual Council (CNA) and Council Fighting Discrimination (CNCD) avoided sanctioning unprofessional and unethical behavior by media outlets controlled by businessmen and politicians related to the ruling party, while sanctioning reporters criticizing the government. For example, in January the CNCD fined both Republica analyst Cristian Tudor Popescu and Digi24 TV’s Cosmin Prelipceanu 1,000 lei ($250), for criticizing the hairdo of the newly appointed prime minister and for refusing to retract the remark. On June 19, the Bucharest Court of Appeals cancelled the CNCD decision on the grounds that it violated freedom of expression.
During the year media outlets, anchors, and commentators controlled by owners who were connected to the government and ruling parties criticized press outlets whose coverage was critical of the ruling parties and their proposed legal curbs on magistrates’ powers.
Violence and Harassment: More than 20 civic and human rights NGOs condemned the June 20 use of violence by the gendarmerie against peaceful protesters, including the detention of a German reporter.
On August 10, at least 15 journalists suffered physical, verbal, or tear gas assaults by gendarmes while monitoring a major anticorruption, antigovernment protest taking place in Bucharest, according to Active Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, and the International and the European Federations of Journalists. According to NGOs, media reports, and testimonies, the journalists abused by gendarmes included Robert Mihailescu (Hotnews.ro), Cristian Stefanescu (Deutsche Welle), Vlad Ursulean (Casa Jurnalistului), Ioana Moldovan (Documentaria.ro), Silviu Matei (Agerpres), Cristian Popa and Cristi Ban (Digi 24), and Robert Reinprecht and Ernst Gelegs (Austrian public television).
On November 8, invoking privacy legislation, the National Supervisory Authority for Personal Data Processing (ANSPCP) asked investigative media group Rise Project to disclose the sources of the information they used for the articles they published into suspected cases of fraud and corruption with public money. Reporters’ articles referred to TelDrum, a company based in Teleorman County, allegedly connected to the Chamber of Deputies speaker, who is also the chair of the ruling party, PSD. ANSPCP threatened the group with an unprecedented penalty of a 20 million euro ($23 million) fine if it did not provide access to their databases and ongoing investigations. It was the second consecutive year that Rise Project was subject to harassment by government agencies after it started thorough investigations into the assets of the ruling party chair and his family.
Libel/Slander Laws: On May 13, Chamber of Deputies speaker Liviu Dragnea announced that he had requested authorities investigate G4Media.ro reporter Dan Tapalaga, claiming he had revealed a classified memorandum on the possible move of the country’s embassy to Jerusalem. G4Media was able to show that the report was based on open sources.
Voluntari Mayor Florin Pandele sued the news outlet PressOne.ro after the magazine disclosed academic evidence that he and dozens of other officials plagiarized their Ph.D. theses, after which the granting university rescinded his degree. Pandele was claiming damages of 300,000 euros ($339,000) for defamation. On November 20, the High Court of Cassation and Justice sent the case back to the appellate court, ruling that its previous rejection of Pandele’s second appeal was “not convincing.” After another appellate court ruling, the case could return to the High Court for a final ruling.
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. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 64 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
In January media outlets reported that police opened two criminal cases against individuals in Timisoara who were accused of “instigating” unrest in Facebook messages in connection with antigovernment protests in December 2017. The human rights NGO Societatea Timisoara reported that the police action was aimed at intimidating street protesters mobilizing for democracy.
On July 19, media and NGOs criticized the Judicial Inspection of the Superior Council of Magistrates for initiating a disciplinary investigation against prosecutor Alexandra Lancranjan for a Facebook post explaining European legislation relating to abuse of office.
National Security: On June 26, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that the arrest of journalist Marian Girleanu in 2006 was disproportionate and constituted an interference with his right to freedom of expression. The court order the state pay 4,500 euros ($5,180) to the journalist and 3,695 euros ($4,250) to his lawyer. Girleanu was arrested and fined in 2006 for sharing classified military information without publishing it. At the time Girleanu was working for the daily newspaper Romania Libera, pursuing investigations into the armed forces and police.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
Media outlets and NGOs accused the Vrancea Popular Atheneum, a cultural events venue sponsored by the Focsani municipality, of cancelling a planned conference in February on women’s empowerment and gender equality organized by high school students because one of the speakers was transgender. The Vrancea Bar Association, a county councilor, the Vrancea School Inspectorate, the “Parents for Religion Classes” Association, and the Vrancea and Buzau Archbishopric intervened to block the conference and attempted to dissuade the organizers from holding it. In a statement to media, the director of the Athenaeum asserted, “We are a public, serious-minded institution, I cannot agree with discussions about lesbianism, homosexuality, and transgender taking place in the Athenaeum.” The conference was eventually held at a different location.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, but the government occasionally restricted freedom of peaceful assembly.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government partially respected it. The law provides that unarmed citizens may assemble peacefully but also stipulates that meetings must not interfere with other economic or social activities and may not take place near such locations as hospitals, airports, or military installations. In most cases organizers of public assemblies must request permits in writing three days in advance from the mayor’s office of the locality where the gathering is to occur.
On October 15, the Supreme Court ruled that public gatherings, including protests, must be declared in advance when they are to be held in markets, public spaces, or in the vicinity of institutions “of public or private interest.” The decision was mandatory. Activists opposed these restrictions, stating that by announcing the protests, those who take to the streets will be forced to take responsibility not only for themselves, but also for larger groups or for instigators to violence who may be brought there to compromise peaceful anticorruption protests. Civic organizations also warned that in Bucharest, authorities granted public spaces for longer periods to NGOs with no activity only as a pretext to refuse permits to protest to legitimate organizations.
On August 10, a major protest at Victoria Square in Bucharest attracted approximately 100,000 protesters. According to the Ministry of Interior, several hundred persons allegedly attempted to get close to the cabinet office building and threw objects at gendarmes. Media and civic groups reported that the number of violent protesters was much lower, amounting to several dozens of persons. Gendarmes used tear gas and water cannon in an indiscriminate manner, harming peaceful protesters, some of whom were children or elderly. Many bystanders were also injured. NGOs, observers, and journalists noted that gendarmes launched tear gas canisters in adjacent areas of the square against persons who did not pose a threat. Because of the large crowd, protesters did not have the opportunity to disperse when gendarmes began using tear gas grenades. Gendarmes also used violence against protesters who left the protest and were on adjacent streets. Numerous broadcast television reports showed members of the gendarmerie punching, kicking, and hitting peaceful protesters with their batons. Several protesters suffered injuries caused by shrapnel from exploding tear-gas canisters.
According to the Interior Ministry, 452 individuals needed medical care during the protest, of which 33 were gendarmes; 70 persons were taken to the hospital, including 14 gendarmes. Hundreds of protesters reported side effects from irritant agents after the protest. Four Israeli tourists and a driver who happened to be in the area were dragged out of a taxi and beaten by gendarmes. Numerous reports showed that several gendarmes had the identification numbers on their helmets covered with duct tape. Dozens of civic and human rights NGOs condemned the intervention of the gendarmerie, which they viewed as a highly disproportionate response to the actions of most protesters.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits fascist, racist, or xenophobic ideologies, organizations, and symbols.
In August the government adopted an ordinance that authorizes the Ministry of Public Finances to check whether NGOs use the funds redirected by citizens from their income tax according to the organizations’ primary goals. The ADHR-HC asserted that this measure would allow the government to harass NGOs.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, which could include irregular migrants potentially in need of international protection.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR, several incidents of harassment and crimes against refugees and migrants were reported throughout the year in Bucharest and other parts of the country, although many incidents were not reported because of fear, lack of information, inadequate support services, and inefficient redress mechanisms. Authorities consistently declined to investigate incidents of this kind as hate crimes.
In-country Movement: The internal movement of beneficiaries of international protection and stateless persons was generally not restricted. Asylum seekers may be subject to measures limiting their freedom of movement and to detention in specific circumstances. The law and implementing regulations provide that the General Inspectorate for Immigration may designate a specific place of residence for an applicant for asylum while authorities determine his or her eligibility or may take restrictive measures, subject to approval by the prosecutor’s office, that amount to administrative detention in “specially arranged closed areas.” According to UNHCR, as of September no cases of asylum detention were recorded during the year. Applicants who do not qualify for asylum were treated as aliens without a right to stay in the country who may be taken into custody pending deportation. According to the law, those applying for asylum while in public custody were released from detention if granted access to the ordinary procedure. Detention in public custody centers is subject to regular review and should not exceed six months unless there are specific circumstances, in which case detention may be extended for up to 18 months. Applicants for or beneficiaries of international protection in certain circumstances, particularly those declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, may be subject to administrative detention in public custody centers.
The government may grant “tolerated status” to persons who do not meet the requirements for refugee status or subsidiary protection, but who cannot be returned for various reasons. These reasons include cases where stateless persons are not accepted by their former country of habitual residence or where the lives or well-being of returnees could be at risk. Persons with “tolerated status” have the right to work but not to benefit from any other social protection or inclusion provisions, and the government restricted their freedom of movement to a specific region of the country. According to UNHCR, 244 persons were holders of “tolerated status” as of January, of whom 141 had been granted “toleration” as an alternative to detention or following prolonged detention.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The law establishes exceptions to the principle of nonrefoulement and the withdrawal of the right to stay following a declaration of a person as “undesirable.” This may occur, for example, when classified information or “well founded indications” suggest that aliens (including stateless persons), applicants for asylum, or persons granted asylum intend to commit terrorist acts or favor terrorism. Applicants for protection declared “undesirable” on national security grounds were taken into custody pending the finalization of their asylum procedure and then deported. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as of the end of November, 390 persons had been subjected to refoulement.
Access to Asylum: The law provides access to asylum procedures to foreign nationals and stateless persons who express their desire for protection, which may be in the form of refugee status or temporary “subsidiary protection” status. The asylum law prohibits the expulsion, extradition, or forced return of any asylum seeker at the country’s border or from within the country’s territory, but this was not without exception, particularly in cases that fell under the country’s national security and terrorism laws.
UNHCR reported several allegations of denial of access to the country, pushbacks, and deviations from asylum procedures at border areas.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides for the concept of safe countries of origin. This normally referred to EU member states but could also include other countries approved by the Internal Affairs Ministry at the recommendation of the General Inspectorate for Immigration. Procedurally, the government would normally reject applications for asylum by persons who had arrived from a safe country under accelerated procedures, except in cases where the factual situation or evidence presented by the applicant shows the existence of a well-founded fear of persecution. Between January and August, one asylum application by an EU national was rejected at the administrative level of the asylum procedure; no information regarding the legal basis for the rejection was available.
The law also refers to the concept of a safe third country. The law extends to irregular migrants who transited and were offered protection in a third country considered safe or who had the opportunity at the border or on the soil of a safe third country to contact authorities for the purpose of obtaining protection. In such cases authorities could deny access to asylum procedures if the designated safe third country agreed to readmit the applicant to its territory and grant access to asylum procedures.
Freedom of Movement: The law incorporates four “restrictive” measures under which the internal movement of applicants for asylum may be limited. The first two establish an obligation to report regularly to the General Inspectorate for Immigration or to reside at a regional reception center. A third restrictive measure allows authorities to place applicants in “specially arranged closed areas” for a maximum of 60 days, either to access the asylum procedure or if the asylum seeker is deemed to pose a danger to national security. There was no case of an asylum applicant being placed in a specially arranged closed area through September. Authorities may also place asylum applicants in administrative detention in a public custody center if they are subject to a transfer to another EU member state under the Dublin Regulations or if they have been declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, pending their removal from the country.
Under provisions of the law to limit “abuse to the asylum procedure,” irregular migrants who submitted their first application for international protection while in custody were released from detention only if granted access to the ordinary asylum application procedure. The provisions raised concerns among UN agencies and civil society due to the ambiguity in the phrases “abuse of the asylum procedure” and “risk of absconding.”
The period of detention in a public custody center could be prolonged up to a maximum of 18 months.
Employment: Asylum seekers have the right to work starting three months after they submit their first asylum application, if the process was not completed. This period begins again if the applicant obtains access to a new asylum procedure. Even when granted permission to work, many asylum seekers faced problems finding legal work, mainly due to the limited validity of their identification documents and lack of awareness among potential employers of their right to work.
While persons granted protection have the legal right to work, job scarcity, low wages, lack of language proficiency, and lack of recognized academic degrees and other certifications often resulted in unemployment or employment without a legal contract and its related benefits and protections.
Access to Basic Services: Effective access by persons with refugee status or subsidiary protection to education, housing, lifelong learning and employment, public health care, and social security varied across the country, depending on the level of awareness of various public and private actors responsible for ensuring access to these services.
The government provides asylum seekers 16 lei ($4) per day in financial assistance, with slightly increased allowances for vulnerable persons. The allowance was low relative to the local cost of living, and persons with special needs or vulnerabilities were particularly affected. Supplementary financial support was provided under EU-sponsored projects, but timing gaps between these projects restricted funding availability. Applicants for asylum had limited options for meaningful activities, such as language classes, cultural orientation, and skills training. Romanian language classes were no longer available for adults. State-provided social, psychological, and medical assistance for asylum applicants remained insufficient, with many dependent on NGO-implemented projects for such help. Proper identification and assistance for victims of trauma and torture was lacking.
Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR, the country had become a resettlement country, having agreed to resettle small quotas of refugees every year. For 2018-19, the quota pledged by the government was 109 Syrian refugees, to be resettled from Turkey (69) and Jordan (40) with UNHCR and IOM support. As of September no arrivals had been recorded.
UNHCR reported that, as of August, 4,072 persons benefiting from any of several forms of legal protection were residing in the country. By the end of August, 1,406 persons had submitted new or repeat asylum applications.
Beneficiaries of international protection continued to face problems with local integration, including access to vocational training adapted to their specific needs, counseling programs, and naturalization. According to UNHCR, no municipality provided targeted support services or targeted integration and inclusion programs to refugees. Access to education was problematic, and several school inspectorates refused to organize Romanian language classes. According to several reports, schools across the country, including in large cities such as Bucharest or Timisoara, refused to enroll refugee children in school for several months. Obtaining a legal work contract remained difficult for various reasons, including tax concerns and the reluctance of employers to hire refugees. Recipients of subsidiary protection complained of problems regarding their freedom of movement to other countries due to the additional visa requirements. UNHCR reported that refugees saw citizenship acquisition as a cumbersome, costly, and difficult process, with some requirements, particularly related to the applicant’s financial situation, that were difficult to meet.
Temporary Protection: The government did not grant temporary protection to any individuals during the year.
According to UNHCR, as of August there were 337 stateless persons with valid residence documents in the country. These included legal residents under the aliens’ regime, stateless persons of Romanian origin, as well as 120 persons granted some form of international protection. Data on stateless persons, including on persons at risk of statelessness and persons of undetermined nationality, were not reliable due to the absence of a procedure to determine statelessness, the absence of a single designated authority responsible for this purpose, and the lack of adequate identification and registration of persons with unknown or undetermined nationality.
The law includes favorable provisions for stateless persons of Romanian origin to reacquire citizenship. Nevertheless, a significant gap persisted due to the lack of safeguards against statelessness for children born in the country, who would be stateless because their parents either were themselves stateless or were foreigners unable to transmit their nationality.