Romania: riot police under fire for attacking journalists and protestors

By Jane Whyatt

EU officials and media freedom campaigners are condemning the actions of Romanian police during anti-corruption demonstrations in Bucharest.

Romanian police under fire for attacking journalists Photo: Dominic Negrici

At least sixteen examples of police violence against journalists and camera crews have been documented. Active Watch, ECPMF’s Romanian member organisation, calls on the police to publicly and urgently disclose the orders that were given to prevent journalists getting access the sanctions against police who committed violations and how the officers are trained to cover such events.

Amongst many Romanian reporters and demonstrators who suffered, an Austrian TV crew  from the public service broadcaster ORF's main national TV news programme ZiB was attacked during a live broadcast. Camera operator Robert Reinprecht endured a beating. In an interview with ECPMF his colleague, foreign correspondent Ernst Gelegs said:

One policeman hit me with his shield. My cameraman was frightened and ran away with the group and the police chased him and three of them stopped him, pushed him into a side street and then they beat him with sticks. He shouted "I’m a cameraman, I’m a cameraman, stop it." And after three or four hits they stopped. 

Defending his crew, ORF Director-General Alexander Wrabetz has made an official protest and comments: "It is the duty of security forces to ensure that journalistic activities can be freely undertaken. This is one of the minimum standards of the EU“. Austria currently holds the presidency of the EU Council and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz reacted on Twitter to the violent scenes, stating that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are fundamental liberties of the European Union which must be defended unconditionally.

In YouTube and Facebook, many live videos show how Romanian reporters and bloggers also came under attack from the riot police. Some eyewitnesses said they observed agents provocateurs amongst the protestors who were deliberately inciting violence. The number of demonstrators is estimated at 100,000 on 10. August, with smaller, more peaceful gatherings also on 11. and 12. also attracting several thousand people. Four hundred and fifty people were hurt in the clashes, inluding 30 police officers, according to news agency reports.

Reporter Vlad Ursulean posted on Facebook that he thought the police were targeting anyone with a camera in order to destroy the video footage of their violent actions.

The gendarmes jumped on me three times, especially when I was filming the beating of Israeli tourists. Each time they targeted the camera: they pulled the cell phone, threatened to stop the live and pulled the plug, but I escaped. I was annoyed and outraged.

The incident with the tourists has prompted an official protest from the Israeli embassy.

'I pee on your press card'

Silviu Matei, a photographer working for the Romanian national news agency Agerpres, wrote on Facebook that he was kicked by an officer as he bent down to pick up a tripod from the ground. “I was holding up my press card. You know what he said? I pee on your press card,” Matei said, according to the independent news website

Romania’s Interior Minister Carmen Dan interrupted her holiday to give a press conference and visit injured police officers in hospital. She defended the actions, maintaining that in any other European state where such violent conflicts occur more frequently than in Romania, the state intervenes forcefully to restore public order and security.

ECPMF has requested a reply from the Romania Gendarmerie and will publish it here.


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