Thousands of Romanians took to the streets on Sunday evening to protest the new government’s planned changes to criminal legislation that judiciary officials in the eastern European nation have warned could weaken the rule of law and disrupt efforts to fight graft.
Some 30,000 people demonstrated in Bucharest in front of the government headquarters, shouting in support of Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors and chanting “No amnesty, we want you in jail!” according to estimates by riot police and reports by local media including Digi24 television. Over 6,000 people also gathered in Cluj-Napoca in Transylvania and thousands more marched in cities across the country.
Romania’s newly-appointed government, backed by a coalition led by the Social Democrats, plans to grant pardons to prisoners with jail sentences under five years and to decriminalize other offenses, including corruption-related ones like abuse of office. While it’s cited overcrowded prisons as grounds for its proposal, chief prosecutors and judiciary associations said the planned changes — made by way of emergency decrees — are “unacceptable” and target specific people, such as high-ranking politicians probed for corruption.
President Klaus Iohannis on Friday urged Premier Sorin Grindeanu’s cabinet to withdraw the proposals. Opposition parties Save Romania Union and the Liberals are considering initiating a no-confidence motion against the government, although they lack a parliamentary majority.
“People have a right to be outraged as a gang of politicians who face criminal problems want to change the legislation and weaken the rule of law,” Iohannis said while attending the protests in Bucharest. “It’s unacceptable to change legislation just to clean up the files of tens and hundreds of politicians in trouble with the law so they are able to go ahead with their wrongdoings.”
Social Democratic leader Liviu Dragnea, who was blocked from becoming prime minister late last year because of a criminal conviction for trying to rig a referendum, responded by accusing the president of attempting to start a “coup d’etat.”
“Iohannis wants to shackle the power that has legitimacy granted by the popular vote,” Dragnea, who’s also parliament speaker, said on Facebook. “The president acted outside the law by seeking personal political gains and asking for constitutional nonsense: the withdrawal of some decrees, especially decrees that haven’t been passed.”