Thousands stage anti-ACTA protests

People in 15 cities took to the streets on Saturday, urging the Gov’t to drop the anti-piracy treaty, considered a threat to privacy and freedom of expression. Tens of thousands rallied across Europe as well.

Despite the low temperatures and the snowfalls, thousands of people staged protests across the country against the controversial Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which opponents claim poses a serious threat to privacy and freedom rights. In Bucharest, about 2,000 people gathered in the University Square, the hotbed of austerity protests in recent weeks, urging the government to drop the agreement.  According to the anti-ACTA Romanian Facebook page, some 2,500 people took part in the protests in Bucharest, while the gendarmerie says only 300 participated. Gendarmes’ spokesperson told Mediafax the protest staged at Piata Universitatii was not authorised.

Protesters were joined by several dozens of people, who are demonstrating against the political class, who kept on calling for early elections and the resignation of President Traian Basescu. In fact, in most cities, austerity protesters joined the ACTA demonstrations.

People started to gather in Piata Universitatii at 4 pm. Bucharesters of all ages, including couples with toddlers, senior citizens, students and football fans turned out at the call of the Facebook internet users association “Romania spune NU-ACTA”.

“ACTA is against the basic civil rights, the free access to information, culture and infringes the right to say your opinion and to protest. If this treaty comes into force, all these rights will be seriously affected, things will never be the same. Today, the internet is the main platform for new ideas,” Alexandra Teodor a young designer who came to the protest with her two toddlers and her husband told Nine O’Clock. As a designer, one would expect she would have welcomed an international agreement protecting her intellectual property rights. “If you are not pirated, you are not known, you can do whatever but you will never be recognized for your work,” she argues. “I think the Romanian authorities didn’t know what they signed, or on the contrary the government has the interest to suppress the liberties of the masses. ACTA is undoubtedly a method to suppress the people and its voice,” she says.   The young woman is confident that people will block the ratification of the controversial agreement. “They are only a few MPs and we are many. If we protest, we can change anything in this world.”

Another elderly woman is afraid the agreement will add to the many abuses the citizen is facing today. “It will violate the individual freedoms of the person. I am absolutely against ACTA. I agree that the intellectual property rights should be protected but ACTA is much more than that. We don’t’ want anyone to control us.”

A big turnout was reported also Cluj Napoca, where more then 1,000 protesters gathered. The protesters were carrying placards reading various anti-ACTA messages, such as “ACTA is condemnation to fear of expression,”  “Stop ACTA, stop Internet censorship,” “Save privacy,”  “Act now or ACTA will blow your mind.”  Some protesters were also wearing Guy Fawkes masks, the image of well known hackers’ group Anonymous.

“We came here because privacy is threatened. (…) We can no longer express ourselves freely on the Internet. The Internet was one of the few places where you could stay anonymous,” a protester told Mediafax. Another one said that if the bill is adopted, “our life and freedom will never be the same.”  “We don’t even realise how dangerous ACTA is. (…) ACTA is an offence to freedom of speech and the right to freedom,” the demonstrator said.

About 300 people demonstrated against the agreement at Targu Mures, Sfantu Gheorghe and Bistrita, most of them students and youngsters. “We are protesting against this agreement we deem inhuman, it is aimed at being an anti-piracy law but it opens the door wide for abuse,” a protester said. He added that the agreement may hinder access to information and will give Internet providers “more decision-making power and the right to monitor all the websites and information” a computer accesses, under the pretext of protecting copyright. “There are plenty of laws for copyright at the moment, so I don’t think we need a new law, the current legislation should be enforced,” he added. One of the organisers of the protest in Bistrita, Dan Costin, told Mediafax that demonstrators are not necessarily bothered by the fact the bill includes new Internet regulations, “but we are bothered by the fact our country adopts these regulations without consulting us.”

Romania signed the ACTA agreement together with 21 other EU member states in Tokyo, at the end of last month.

In Timisoara, over 200 people protested, carrying banners and wearing Anonymous masks. Some demonstrators had stuck duct tape reading “ACTA” over their mouths.

Dozens of people also staged demonstrations in Oradea, Iasi, Ploiesti, Constanta, Craiova, Alba Iulia and elsewhere.

Across Europe, there were tens of thousands of people defying the cold temperatures to rally against ACTA. Anger spilled into the streets of European cities, from Sofia and Vilnius to Prague, Paris and London. On Friday Germany announced it stopped the signing of the agreement.

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