A new law that sanctions social defamation, currently under debate in the Chamber of Deputies, has stirred a heated debate in Romania in the past week.
The law aims to promote human dignity and tolerance, according to its initiator Liviu Dragnea, the president of the Social Democratic Party (PSD). However, many NGOs believe that the law is a form of censorship that affects free speech.
The US Embassy also voiced its concern about this new law. “The protection of free speech, even if offensive, is a foundational aspect of a healthy democratic society. While we condemn discrimination and hate, we also oppose laws that prohibit offensive speech at the expense of freedom of expression,” according to a statement issued on Monday, February 15.
The initial form of this law was voted by the Senate in October 2015 and included fines between RON 1,000 and RON 30,000 (EUR 225-6,740) for social defamation targeted at an individual, and up to RON 100,000 (EUR 22,500) for denigrating social groups.
The law defines social defamation as the act or the statement through which a person is put in a position of inferiority because he belongs to a group of people “who can be socially distinguished through one or more features related to gender, age, race, religion, ethnic origin, native language, cultural traditions, political affiliation, sexual orientation, social origin, disability, non-contagious disease, or HIV/AIDS infection.”
As the law went into the Chamber of Deputies for debate last week, the NGOs and Opposition have again voiced their disapproval. Moreover, Liviu Dragnea’s Facebook page was assaulted by negative comments and insults. He decided to erase all the negative comments to his posts and only left the positive or neutral ones arguing that the negative ones were “violent and vulgar” and came from individuals who were paid by Opposition parties. He also banned all the people who made negative comments.
Dragnea said that he was willing to change some of the law’s provisions and even to eliminate the article that defines social defamation all together, according to Mediafax.
Romania has a law that sanctions discrimination of any kind. However, Dragnea said that his law was aimed at promoting tolerance and preventing defamation rather than on sanctioning discriminating behavior.