Round up of suspected Homosexuals in Focsani  

Round up of suspected Homosexuals in Focsani
Comment - June 2001

The continuing relevance of the following article by Scott Long which was published in English in Die Andere Welt in 1996, is shown by the fact that a few days ago the Romanian Cabinet passed an emergency regulation to abolish (for the Xth time) the infamous Paragraph 200. In a note on the announcement it was stated that around 160 people are still in prison in Romania for "offences" that in most of Europe are not punishable.

n January 17 (1996) I went to Focsani Penitentiary, accompanied by Bogdan U and Yves M, to speak to Cosmin G., serving a sentence of one year and two months under Article 200, paragraph 1 of the Romanian penal code.

What we found was a case of five people arrested and convicted for completely private consensual sexual acts. These arrest, which took place in 1992, are indicative of the degree to which Article 200 § 1, gives Romanian police and prosecutors eventually unlimited power to invade private life. They demonstrate that, as long as the law remains on the books, such intrusions can continued unchecked.

Moreover such prosecutions could still be justified under the Romanian Government's proposed revision of Article 200 § 1 to publish homosexual acts 'which cause public scandal". ... The fact that the acts - while 'private' in that they took place at home and under concealment - somehow became known and were reported to the police could be taken to give them a public character. As one of the prison authorities told us, "such things (as homosexuality) are scandalous by definition."

Focsani is a factory-dominated town in southern Moldavia. Our reception by the prison authorities was cold in more ways than one: we were made to wait in the street outside the penitentiary for some forty minutes, and when we entered the commandant refused to see us. Instead we spoke to various deputies. We asked to see the prisoners penitentiary Ale. However, the question of whether we would be allowed to see it was left hanging until the last moment, when our interview with the prisoner himself was almost at an end. At this point the file was produced, but we could not examine it in detail until the interview was over, hence we did not have the chance to ask the prisoner about certain minor discrepancies between the file and his account. However, the main points of what Mr. G. said were not contradicted by the Rle, and presented a disturbing picture of someone sentenced to over a year in prison for a single private and consensual act. G., who seemed articulate and eager to talk, was born on 21. May 1972 in Focsani. His father holds the rank of major at a Ministry of Defence installation, and his mother is a housewife. His home address (known to the editorial committee.) is his parents flat.

On an evening in 1991 - Mr. G. doesn't remember the date - he was invited to watch videos at the house of an acquaintance, not a particularly close friend, name Mihai U.. U., was a goods importer who did business with Turkey, and as G. pointed out the video cassette player is a rare and interesting commodity in Focsani. There were several other people in the home, watching rented movies. At some point U. called G. into another room, where the rest couldn't hear and asked G. if he (U.] could give him a blowjob. G. agreed this was the first and only sexual contact between the men.

Months later, in July 1992, U. was in the company of some other friends of G's. He made the same offer to them, to give them a blowjob. They too accepted. G. was not present. He only heard of this later through police interrogations. However, it was this occasion which gave rise to the criminal case. U. lived with a woman who found out about the incident and reported it to the police. The police promptly arrested U., the two men concerned, C. and L.. According to G. the police initially intended to accuse C. and L. of using force. However, both C. and L. had earlier been told by G. of his own experience with U., and cited that old incident to the police as evidence that U. did these things for pleasure and not because of force.

When we asked G. (two prison guards were sitting in the room), he told me that the police had not mistreated him. But he did say they mocked him constantly as a homosexual. He said he was confused and extremely frightened during the interrogation; he had not even known that homosexual acts were illegal in Romania and had certainly not expected to be brought in by the police for one months before. G. was released. But in September he received a court summons in which, despite police assurances, he was listed as one of the accused, facing five years in prison. G. said that there were between two and four co-summons and that he did not answer them, because he was extremely scared.

Finally in January 1993 he left for Germany. The trial took place, and he was tried in absentia. In a phone conversation with his mother while he was in Germany she told him of the relatively light sentence the other defendants had received. He returned to Romania on June 14 1993. G.'s file indicated that he had been "expelled" from Germany, but we found out this only after the interview and could not question him. On 28 July 1993 the police came to arrest him. He found out that had been sentenced to one year and 1 month in prison for a completely private consensual sexual act.

The Council of Europe had demand that the Romanian Government abolish Article 200 § 1. On 3. 2. 1994 the Romanian Parliament passed the 'new" version, which in its existing form contains imprisonment as punishment for homosexual acts, and bans on meetings for homosexuals. Tupilak, the Nordic lesbian and gay cultural organisation and the International Lesbian and Gay Cultural Network are proposing to organise a cultural event in Bukharest this summer.

Scott Long

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