Romanian Journalists Sentenced to Jail for Libel

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August 7, 1998

 

His Excellency
Emil Constantinescu
President of Romania

 

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly protests the July 23 sentencing, by an Iasi city court, of Romanian journalists Ovidiu Scutelnicu and Dragos Stingu to one year in prison for criminal libel. The decision, once carried out, will make Romania the second country in the former Eastern bloc (after Uzbekistan) to imprison journalists for defamation.

Scutelnicu and Stingu are reporters for Monitorul, one of the most popular independent dailies in northeast Romania. Petre Susanu, a local police colonel, and his wife, Otilia, a top city court official, brought libel charges against the two journalists for a May 27 article, "Dismissal at the Top of the Iasi Police," which described his firing from the police force. The article evaluated the grounds for Susanu's dismissal and questioned the origins of the colonel's wealth. Several members of Susanu's family hold positions in the city court system, including the couple's daughter, who is a judge, and son-in-law, who is a prosecutor. This prompted Scutelnicu and Stingu to request that the case be transfered to another venue, because they believed their trial would be unfair. The Supreme Court rejected their request however, providing no explanation.

The reporters were convicted of libel under article 206 of the penal code and remain free pending an appeal filed with the same Iasi court on August 3. Under Romanian law, this is their only opportunity to appeal the decision. On top of the prison sentence, the court ordered the journalists to pay a 1.5 billion lei fine (about US$170,000), stripped them of their civil rights, and barred them from practicing their profession for one year. On August 5, Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica promised to file an extraordinary appeal with the Supreme Court on the journalists' behalf if the Iasi court rejects their appeal.

As a nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ strongly protests the criminal prosecution and jailing of journalists Ovidiu Scutelnicu and Dragos Stingu for defamation as a violation of all international norms on press freedom. We urge you to call for a review of the case and to ensure that the journalists' rights as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the other multilateral treaties, are upheld.

CPJ strongly encourages you to initiate a review of the statutes punishing journalists with up to three years in prison for libel and defamation. The European Court of Human Rights, and other international courts, have ruled there are ample civil remedies for libel.

Thank you for your attention. We await your comments.

 

Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper

Executive Director



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