|Reporters Without Borders and its Romanian partner have denounced what they say are judicial pressures on two investigative journalists.
The alleged pressure followed a complaint filed by a Bucharest district mayor.
Romanian prosecutors have questioned the journalists who reported on irregularities related to public procurement, a statement issued Thursday said.
Newsweek Romania and Libertatea published articles on the alleged irregularities related to public funds and tenders.
Following the reports, Bucharest district mayor Daniel Băluță, a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party filed a criminal complaint. He claimed the journalists were involved in organized criminal blackmail. He didn’t submit any evidence relating to the alleged criminal conduct.
Reporters Without Borders and ActiveWatch warned against what they said was a dangerous precedent “with a possible chilling effect on journalists.” They demanded an internal investigation into the prosecutors’ treatment of the complaint.
The two groups sent a letter to Romania’s general prosecutor and the Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism Crimes. They also addressed the chief inspector of the Judiciary Inspection and Justice Minister, Stelian Ion.
However, prosecutors issued subpoenas.They called the two journalists for questioning, thereby implicitly accepting the claim of the district mayor.
The statement said that Mr Tolontan, and another journalist were part of a “discreditation campaign.” The pair were unable to defend themselves as they signed non-disclosure agreements with the prosecutors.
Discredit the journalist
The statement said the attempt to discredit the journalist “was led by a publication controlled by a person… convicted for being the intermediary of a multimillion-euro bribe between a private businessman and a former minister.”
Newsweek journalists who initially broke the story about the mayor were questioned on May 21.
“We remind Romanian authorities that reporting critical stories about people in power, especially about those managing public funds, is a highly protected right of journalists. It is the utmost obligation of state authorities to guarantee… and protect the implementation of such journalists’ rights,” a statement said.
“ We also remind them that collaborative publication across independent media is a standard practice, and not a sign of organized crime activity.”
„We …. call upon any political parties to instruct their members who occupy public positions to accept public criticism and journalistic investigations. (We also call on them) to refrain from using the courts and prosecutors to silence ..critical media.
Council of Europe
It said that RSF would alert the Council of Europe about purported judicial pressure on journalists.
It added: „This dangerous precedent… must not turn into a common practice with the aim of silencing independent journalists.”
Romania is ranked 48th in the World Press Freedom Index