More than 20,000 Romanians protested across the country on Sunday against proposed changes to judicial laws that would make them more lenient toward corruption.
The protests are unlikely to trigger a change in government, as happened in the aftermath of a deadly nightclub fire in 2015, but Romanians who took to the streets want the ruling Social Democrat Party to know they remain vigilant against any easing up of the country’s fight against corruption.
The marches come just nine months after the biggest protests in post-communist Romania forced the government to withdraw a decree that decriminalized some forms of corruption. However, the government said at the time that the changes would be necessary eventually in order for it to comply with a constitutional court ruling. Some of these changes have now reached parliament, prompting Sunday’s protest.
Included in the proposed amendments is the removal of the president’s power to appoint the top anti-corruption prosecutor, who instead would be nominated by the justice minister and then appointed by the Superior Magistrates Council. Protesters worry this would give government too much power over the anti-corruption prosecutors who are meant to keep them in check. The president is independent of the government and has the role of mediator between the different powers.
Protesters also oppose a move by the Senate’s legal committee last week to reject a draft law that would have stopped politicians with criminal sentences from becoming Romania’s president. “This means that a convict could decide Romanians’ fate and represent them,” the protest organizers wrote on Facebook. A vote in the Senate plenary is still pending.
The draft changes are also to be raised in a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday between Romania’s Justice Minister Tudorel Toader and Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the European Commission.
“It is time to gather all our forces and, together, to put an end to this aberrant chapter in Romania’s history when the criminal interests of some culprits in the government or the parliament have become state politics,” the protest organizers wrote on Facebook.
In Bucharest, protesters gathered in front of the government building and then walked to the parliament, yelling “by night thieves, by day mafiosos.”