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February 3, 2023

Government rejects PSD-sponsored ‘Silence Law’

The Government rejected yesterday the bill introducing sanctions against the disclosure of pending criminal case information with the formal reason that it failed to bring additional clarifications on the offence compared to existing legislation. The legislative proposal introducing penalties against persons who disclose information pertaining to judicial cases in progress, called by the press the ‘silence Law’, was sponsored by Senator Serban Nicolae. It amends Law No. 286/2009 on the Criminal Code as subsequently amended, by rephrasing articles 276 and 277 criminalising the pressure put on the judiciary and compromising the interests of justice. The disclosure of information that is not public regarding a case under investigation would have been punishable by a prison sentence.
Government changes
opinion from ‘positive’ into ‘negative’ for ‘technical error’ considerations
The initiative of the PSD senator was adopted by the senate through the so-called ‘silent’ procedure and was pending debates in the lower Chamber. However, the Government’s positive opinion issued on the bill caused a wave of protests in the mass media yesterday. The journalists fear that, under the new law, any report on the various judicial cases under investigation might be sanctioned by imprisonment, which would obstruct the freedom of the mass-media. They also made the connection between this particular draft law and the numerous investigations conducted by the National Anti-corruption Department (DNA) lately especially targeted at PSD politicians. Shortly after the wave of dissatisfaction had become visible, the Government amended its communiqué on the acts adopted during its meeting on Wednesday and rewrote the opinion issued changing from ‘positive’ to ‘negative’, with the argument that there had been a technical error.
Victor Ponta: ‘It’s been like Radio Yerevan’
The minister of justice claims the initiating MP’s intention was not to punish journalists, but to find ‘a way to prevent court information leaks’.
Prime-Minister Victor Ponta also reacted to the whole scandal.  meaning that, eight days ago, the Ministry of Justice issued a negative opinion. Yesterday (Wednesday – a/n) the opinion considered during the Cabinet meeting was negative. Afterwards I left and don’t know what happened with communication. Everybody became agitated also like on Radio Yerevan <here’s the evidence that Ponta wants to do away with the journalists>, just to find out, in the evening, that I had actually given a negative opinion. Today (Thursday – a/n) I will be expecting to be praised for defending the journalists’, Ponta said.
He stressed Serban Nicolae’s amendment had nothing to do with the press. ‘This has nothing to do with the press, who is free to do everything all the citizens of this country may do and who has no extra interdiction. I believe that any person, if he/she steals a document from a non public case – a case that is in a confidential phase – is liable for it’, Ponta said.
Government: ‘Law in force is clear enough’
In its negative opinion, the Government shows that the law criminalises the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information regarding the date, time, place, mode or means through which evidence is going to be administered during criminal investigations, by a civil servant who gains such knowledge by virtue of his work, the purpose being to prevent the leaking of information regarding the criminal process, not any kind of information, but just that information that may hamper or prevent the administration of evidence, such as disclosing the identity of a suspect whose means of communication are under surveillance, disclosing a covert operation, planned or in progress, disclosing date from the content of a search authorisation that has not yet been enforced, disclosing information regarding the date and place where a frame-up operation is planned.
The Executive further explains that the existing law is clear enough and that, for the bill to receive a positive opinion, additional clarifications are needed.

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