Thousands protest against Romania government plan to pardon prisoners

January 22, 2017 10:30 pm

A woman shows a red card during a protest against corruption in Bucharest, , January 18, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

More than 10,000 people have taken to the streets across Romania to protest against a government plan to pardon thousands of prisoners.
Demonstrators gathered in the University Square of the capital, Bucharest, on Sunday to demand a halt to the proposal by the ruling Social Democratic Party, which the protesters said was meant to weaken Romania’s fight against corruption.
“We want democracy, with thieves in prison,” chanted the protesters, who also had President Klaus Iohannis, a government critic who supports the anti-corruption drive, among them.
Iohannis criticized the government for the plan, saying the move has made the Romanians rightfully indignant.
“A gang of politicians who have problems with the law want to change the legislation and weaken the state of law,” he said.
Mass protests were also held in other Romanian cities, including in Cluj in the west and Iasi in the north.
Critics say the plan by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu to pass an emergency ordinance to pardon prisoners, which he says would ease overcrowding in prisons, is more of a ploy to help the government’s allies convicted of corruption and other crimes. Social Democrat chairman, Liviu Dragnea, has a two-year suspended prison sentence for vote rigging while Dan Voiculescu, a media mogul, is behind bars on a 10-year sentence handed down to him over money-laundering.
A draft of the controversial plan was published by Romania’s Justice Ministry on January 18, drawing criticism from the top prosecutor, magistrates and politicians. The opposition says any proposal for pardoning the inmates should first be debated in parliament.
Prison authorities have estimated that the plan, which mainly affects those with sentences under five years, could lead to the release of 3,700 prisoners. The government has lowered the expectations, saying the number of those freed from jail as a result of the ordinance would be about 2,500.
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