Last edited: February 14, 2005

Romanian President Will Pardon

Newsplanet, Tuesday, January 27, 1998

SUMMARY: Credit IGLHRC and HRW with a breakthrough for international human rights as Constantinescu promises the release of lesbian and gay prisoners.

Romanian President Emil Constantinescu has promised representatives of the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) that he will pardon all prisoners convicted under the nation's long-protested sodomy law Article 200 (paragraphs 1 and 5). Although this is hopeful news for gay and lesbian prisoners, no one knows yet how many of those now incarcerated were convicted under the sodomy law, and each such prisoner will have to make an individual application to the president in order to receive his or her pardon. Constantinescu said, "Homosexuality is the last remaining human rights problem we have to address in Romania, and we will address it," and said that his pardons should send a signal to the Romanian public. It remains to be seen if the Romanian Parliament will be more willing than in the past to finally repeal Article 200 altogether.

Having previously met with Romanian officials, including the General Inspector of Police, the General Director of Penitentiaries, the Prime Minister, and the Justice Minister, IGLHRC's advocacy coordinator Scott Long and HRW senior advisor Jeri Laber were able to meet for an hour with Constantinescu on January 15, a meeting they say is "unprecedented." They presented him with the two organizations' joint report, "Public Scandals: Sexual Orientation and Criminal Law in Romania," whose main title refers to the dangerously vague clause remaining in Romania's revised sodomy law that allows for arrest and prosecution where same-gender relations create "public scandal." Although the Romanian legislature struggled for many months before reforming the law to its current state -- in response to decriminalization of private consensual same-gender sex acts between adults having been required for the nation's membership in the Council of Europe -- the law has continued to be subject to abuses, which the report details.

One notable example of abuse of the law is the case of Mariana Cetiner, who is serving a three-year prison term for having asked another woman to have sex with her. Amnesty International adopted Cetiner as a "prisoner of conscience" in the belief that she has been incarcerated solely because of her lesbian orientation. She was arrested in October 1995, indicted in May 1996, and convicted in June 1996 on a charges of attempting "to entice or seduce another person of the same sex" (Article 200, paragraph 4) and for trespassing. A year ago she was acquitted and released on appeal, but in May 1997 the prosecutor successfully appealed that reversal, winning her re-incarceration. The appeal judge said that Cetiner was in violation of the law as revised because her sexual overture "became known to other people, who were indignant at the attitude of the accused, provoking sentiments of repulsion." She told observers from IGLHRC and HRW that she had been beaten while in prison, and they found her injuries to be consistent with that report.

Another emblematic case is that of Gabriel Presnac and Radu Vasiliu, who face five years' imprisonment for kissing and holding hands in a public place. They were reportedly brutally beaten by police.

International protests of Romania's sodomy laws by numerous gay and lesbian organizations have been on-going for years, ranging from polite e-mail/fax complaints to officials to boycotts of Romanian wine to London's OutRage group disrupting an opera performance in the U.K. by a Romanian troupe.

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