BUCHAREST, ROMANIA – On Wednesday 17 February the Romanian Parliament will vote on the so-called “social defamation” law. The legislative proposal, which has already passed the Senate, received a positive avis from the Juridical and the Human Rights Committees of the Romanian Parliament.
Ultimately it would stifle free speech in Romania
“This law would criminalize anyone daring to criticize a specific social or political group, or expressing a controversial opinion. Ultimately it would stifle free speech in Romania”, said Adina Portaru, a human rights expert and Legal Counsel at ADF International. “As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the EU Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights, Romania should respect, protect and promote freedom of expression. Members of the Parliament should not adopt laws that could shield them, or others, from criticism and public scrutiny.”
Vague and subjective terms
The language used in the legislative proposal is exceptionally vague and use words such as “situation of inferiority”, “social group”, “social defamation”, and “incitement to social discrimination.” It is unclear who will assess these vague and subjective elements which opens the door for abuse and censorship.
Negative effect on freedom of expression
Given the lack of clarity and foreseeability created by the proposed law, sensitive or controversial topics could be excluded from public debate. “If adopted, this new regulation would stifle debate and differences of opinion, ultimately creating a climate of suspicion and mistrust. It is likely that even journalists or political analysts would have to refrain from openly criticizing politicians or other public figures”, said Portaru.
High penalties for criticism
Under the current legislative proposal “social defamation” is punishable by 1,000 to 30,000 RON (200 to 6,700 EUR) if it “harms” an individual person and 2,000 to 60,000 RON (440 to 13,300 EUR) if it “harms” an organization or group. This would apply to all public statements, including those made by the media.
ADF International strongly recommended the rejection of the legislative proposal in a legal brief submitted to the Romanian Parliament in October, 2015.