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The Romanian government has just passed an executive decree that brought two major changes to the penal code of the country. The new provision allows a virtual amnesty for those found guilty of abuse of power, conflict of interest and work negligence, whether in the past or the future. Justice Minister of Romania Florin Iordache said the measure would decriminalize abuse of power cases in which the financial damage is valued at less than 200,000 lei ($47,800 ).

The decision to decriminalize corruption and abuse of power prompted large protests throughout the country, referring to the measures as an attack on the rule of law. On  February 1, the protesting crowds spiked up to a staggering number of 150,000 in Bucharest alone. Also it was the first time that violence occurred since the protests began, where a number of people were injured in scuffles with the police and subsequently arrested. These are hailed as the largest protests Romania has seen since the fall of communism 27 years ago.

Police Brutality in Romanian protests for rule of law. Photo - Al Jazeera

Police Brutality in Romanian protests for rule of law. Photo – Al Jazeera

The protests in Romania began nearly two weeks before the decree, when the local press drew attention to the government’s (which is an alliance of the Social-Democrats (PSD) and the liberals (ALDE) of Romania) intention to pass two emergency laws, one on prison pardons and another on changes to the penal code. Since then, people have taken to the streets, demanding a halt to both measures and, in the end, demanding the resignation of the social-democrat government.

This move of the Govt. drew strong criticism from the Romanian President Klaus Iohannis as well as the chief judges and prosecutors, the anti-corruption agency and numerous civil society organizations of the country. European Commission expressed “great concern” and stressed that the fight against corruption needed to be advanced in Romania, not undone. Six major strategic allies of Romania – the US, Canada, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium issued a joint statement calling for a repeal of the decree and underlining the importance of the fight against corruption.

Romania (along with Bulgaria) is thought to be the most corrupt country in the European Union. For this ‘reputation’, Romania was accepted in the EU in 2007 on conditions that the EU would continue to monitor the functioning of the judicial system, largely because of corruption concerns and politicization of the legal system.

News and Photo Source: Al Jazeera