Romania - Human Rights a threat to the state?  

Romania – Human Rights a threat to the state ?
Interview with Scott Long, who visited prisons in Romania, on the situation for minorities, especially sexual minorities, in the only country in Europe with a law against lesbian sex.

Not previously published in this form.

C.M-S.: Could you introduce yourself please?

Scott L.: My name is Scott Long and I’m American. I’ve been living in Eastern Europe for 3 years now. For two years I taught in Hungary and now I teach in Romania at the University of Cluj (Kluzh). As an additional title I work as a Human Rights Monitor for the  International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in Romania.

C.M-S.: You visited prisons, too. Why?

Scott L.: Homosexuality, both, male and female, is (1993 !) illegal in Romania. Article 200 of the penal code punishes homosexual acts with five years in prison. Art 204 also punishes attempted homosexual acts – which can also be interpreted as making overture.  Romania is the only European country which penalises lesbian as well as male homosexual acts. In 1992 representatives of ILGA went to Romania to investigate the situation. They· met with officials of the Ministry of Justice, including the Under-Secretary of State, Lucian Stingu,  at the Ministry. The were reassured repeatedly that:

(a) everyone that had been arrested under Article 200 before 1989 had been released

(b) that there had been no further arrest and that the law was a dead letter. No-one was in prison.

Romania has continued to assert this in international forums. As late as January 1993 when their application to the Council of Europe came up, this was again mentioned – and they responded, “It’s a dead law.”  “This is simply not true.” . It is a blatant lie on the part of the Romanian Government.

In February 1993, together with a journalist Rizvan Ion, I went to the Ministry of Justice and we spoke with Lucian Stingu who said, “No-one is in prison.”

We then went two stories down in the Ministry of Justice to the Under Secretary of State for Penitentiaries and asked how many people were imprisoned for homosexual acts. He produced  the figure of 60. We asked for permission to visit people in prison. There were many delays in receiving permission, but after several weeks we got permission to visit two prisons.

We went to Jilava, outside Bucarest, which is an old political prison and the prison at Galati (Galatz) down in the Danube Delta region. We talked to nine people imprisoned for homosexuality. After this we also found out about a case in Timesoara where two young men had been arrested for private consensual homosexual acts and we went there to investigate. We have assembled a considerable  amount of documentation which demonstrates that the Romanian Government’s assertions are simply lies. We have made this material available to ILGA, the Council of Europe, and Amnesty International.

C.M-S.: What evidence did you find?

Scott L.: I can give you details of some cases. In Jilava we spoke to a boy, Marian B. He is now 19 years old. When he was arrested he was 18. His story:

In the Summer of 1992 he was sitting late at night in front of a gas station with some friends in  a working-class district of Bucarest. He is from a working-class family. Some people from his school came by and spread the latest gossip – which was that “x” in their school was gay. Marian spoke very hesitantly about this in prison. Often it was difficult for him to say things. What he did say was that he thought he himself was gay before that. Later that night he went to talk to his school mate who was 14 years old. He asked him, “Are you homosexual?” and his school mate answered, “Yes. I am.” and continued that he had had an affair with someone for several months. The two decided to become lovers.

Like many people in Romania – straight or gay – they had no place to go, so the started going to a remote corner of a local park in their district. They met there every night for a week. After a week someone saw them in the park and reported them to the parents of the younger boy. The parents locked the boy up forcing him to report that  he had been raped.

C.M-S: What happened next?

Scott L.: Marion was arrested next day, and taken to the local police station. He was beaten for several hours on the hands and feet until he signed a confession. He was convicted of homosexual acts, and of having sex with a minor. It should be noted that the age of consent for heterosexual sex in Romania is 14 and therefore the other boy was by heterosexual standards not a minor – also Marian was virtually a minor himself being only a18.) He was convicted of repeated sex acts with a minor, and of rape. As Marian himself said, how could it be rape when it was repeated over a period of a  week. He was sentenced to 5 years with no possibility of parole. We tried to ask him whether he had been assaulted by other prisoners since we had been assured by the commandant of the prison that rape never took place in his prison. Marian didn’t answer but started to cry. I assume he has been repeatedly raped. I would like to stress that he was sentenced for his first sexual experience, and sentenced to five years I prison for it.

Now of the nine people we talked to in prison, 4 said they had been severely beaten by the police in an attempt to extract confessions.

We also found evidence of the old tactic of using informers to infiltrate the gay community. Someone named Ienil, who we spoke to in Galati prison came from a small village outside Galati in rural Moldavia. When he was 20 he went to another village to attend a wedding. Sometime after midnight he was on his way back to the house where he was staying when he was approached by another guest at the wedding. The other guest was older - about 22 - and had been in prison under Ceauscecu for homosexuality. He had been released about 1988. he went up to Ienil and said, “Nice to see you this evening. etc. ”Let’s go over into  the park and have sex.” Ienil countered that they could go back to the house where he was staying, but the man said no he wanted to go into the park.

Ienil refused and finally went to the house alone. The next morning he was wakened at 6 am., by the police who arrested him on the complaint of the other man that Ienil had raped him. They claimed to have testimony from a witness. They asserted that Ienil had physically forced the other man to have sex. Ienil was sentenced to three years prison. He claims he was beaten by the police until almost eight at night. Ienil is extremely short-sighted. When I saw him in prison he was wearing very thick glasses. It was obvious that he could barely see at all. He is physically extremely scrawny and a passive person – nervous and afraid. It was very difficult to imagine that he could possibly force anyone to have sex with him – particularly when you could basically disable him by taking – or knocking off – his glasses.

It seemed more likely to us that the other person who had been in prison until 1988, had been released on condition he turned informer. When Ienil refused he simply transferred the placed of the alleged assault back to where Ienil  was staying and produced the same witness who ”produced” a concocted  account of the “crime”. Ienil is in prison for 6 years – awaiting parole after 3 years. He is eligible for parole.

Conditions in Romanian prisons

Conditions in Romanian prisons are by and large terrible. They’re extremely overcrowded. The prison system has beds for 30,000 and there are 45,000 prisoners. In some prisons prisoners sleep two in a bed – and yet some of the commandants keep on insisting that there is no rape taking place in their prison. …. They keep reservoir basins in each cell and there may be as many as 40 to 50 prisoners in a cell. … We saw a cell hardly more than four by five meters – that had over 40 prisoners in it. Some of them 2 to a bed. The commandant told us that if  a passive homosexual takes the drinking cup and tries to dip it in the water to take a drink, the other prisoners will beat him up for polluting the water.

The other case I would like to talk about is a case which happened in Timesaora. In November 1992 a young boy of 17 named Cipron C., who comes from a small working class town outside Timesaora placed an advert in a newspaper. The advert was answered by a man called Marian L., who is 22. The two met and both by their accounts, fell in love and moved in together. First they lived in with Marian’s mother and then they moved to a hostel in the younger boy’s home town. About two months later – in January someone reported them to the police. They were held in preventive detention for nearly two months before finally being charged with having homosexual sex. The older boy is also charged with statutory rape, and having sex with a minor – although it was the younger boy who initiated the relationship by placing the advert in the newspaper. The minor is charged with homosexual sex and they are facing a trial in May (1993).

We were simply appalled by what we found in Timesaora which has the reputation for being one of the most liberal cities in Romania. … But the police and prosecution are among the worst in Romania. We were told this by the members of the press there, too. … We sat for 6 hours in the prosecutors office trying to get permission to talk to the two boys. We tried to find out why they were being held in preventive detention.

The prosecutor told us, “We have reason to believe that the older of the two has AIDS”. We asked if he was receiving medical attention. The reply was no. We asked if the boy had seen a doctor. He said no. We asked if he had been given an HIV test. He said “No. We don’t have such facilities.” We protested, - “How can you possibly justify saying to anyone, ‘We suspect him of having AIDS’, if he hasn’t been given an HIV test?” The prosecutor replied that “the police are qualified to make such judgements and we (the prosecutor) accept it.”

The police journal in Timesaora about a month after the two were arrested, published an article which included their names, their addresses, a full lurid, account of the case, and even included a photograph. This was before they had even been charged ! This information was picked up by one of the national daily papers who “broadcast” their names across the entire country – which is how we first heard of the case. It is obvious that the police by spreading these contemptible AIDS rumours, and by sensationalising the case were trying pre-emptively to destroy the reputation of the two.

The new gay group in Romania, Group 200, (now deceased, C.M-S 2000) which is committed to repeal of the law against homosexuality, has persuaded the Helsinki Committee – probably the most respected internal human rights agency in Romania – to hire private lawyers for the two. The younger one has since been released from preventive detention, but when I left Romania the older one was still under police arrest. They have been formally charged, but when the case is brought to trial the private lawyers will try to argue against the constitutionality of the law against homosexuality. This is almost certainly the first time that the legal rights of gays and lesbians have been defended by anybody in a Romanian court. That at least is a step in the right direction.

The government of Romania is very sensitive to international pressure right now, and I think, would like to see the law repealed. However, the government is dependent on the votes of right-wing parties in Parliament. Every time they float a balloon over this issue, it is shot down by the right-wingers. Two  months ago a Romanian Senator began raving that the law wasn’t strict enough, and that male homosexuals should be put in women’s prisons and lesbians in men’s prisons so that they could learn the joys of the opposite sex by force if necessary.

That’s the situation we are up against. On the other hand there are some parliamentarians in the Committee on Minorities who are interested in repealing the law. In particular there are two from the Hungarian Party – the UDMR – who we have met several times. They are very enthusiastic, very supportive, and it is good to have them on our side. …I told them that if I had some information on the comparative legal standards in Europe that I’d be happy to send it to them as soon as I had it translated into Romanian. I went back to Cluj, and in my flat gave this information to a Romanian friend who is a student.

Security services?

The next day he was called in by the Securitaté – or rather the Department of Counter-Information, the Romanian Information Agency which is the successor of the Securitaté, They told him he was now part of a treasonous conspiracy between homosexuals and the Hungarians to subvert the Romanian state. They threatened to tell his mother that he was gay. They made threats about his mother’s job. … But he was called in by the Securitaté a second time – “just a reminder that we are watching you.” They watch everybody. No minority is safe. The oppression and harassment of ethnic minorities, Hungarians, gypsies and the remaining Romanian Jews, gets some coverage in the world press. Sexual minorities are, however, in the same boat. Hungarians and homosexuals to the Securitaté are an equal threat, and … in their paranoid “mind-set” they see Hungarians and homosexuals as on the same level of potential threat to the Romanian state. The problems of the homosexual minority in Romania are as severe or more so, as any other minority problem that the Council of Europe is looking at.

C.M-S.: What is the general economic situation like?

Scott L.: The economic situation in Romania is simply terrible. Ceausescu wrecked the country. Some Romanians will tell you that nothing has changed since 1989 – that the government is composed of the same people, that the same system is still in place. I think that is nonsense. Before there was a monolithic elite running the country and there was a monolithic system. The system is not democratic now, by any means, but it’s not monolithic either. Instead there are a lot of different power groups jockeying for control and even within the Securitaté and the Army  - probably the most powerful groups – there are dissident factions.

The government is composed of former communists. They try to present themselves in a moderate light, but in fact they are dependant in parliament on both the extreme left – the Socialist Workers Party – and the extreme right – the Party of Greater Romania – (which is anti-Semitic) and the Party of Romanian National Unity – which is anti-Hungarian. The PRNU is the political arm of a group called the Vatero Romanasca (Romanian Cradle) which is basically an ideological and political successor to the Legionnaires – the fascist movement of the 1930s. The government oscillates between the extreme left and the extreme right, and in the midst of the oscillation Securitaté elements still control a good deal of the power structure of the country. It’s a desperately poor country. Inflation is officially 150% - 250%, but is probably three times that. The government has been delaying economic restructuring but the IMF is forcing them on 1st May (1993) to take the “Yeltsin Solution” and remove subsidies from everything. When that happens there will be a good deal of social unrest and nobody knows exactly what will happen. This is not a good government BUT there are worse governments which could come into office. I’d prefer to be dealing with this government on behalf of Romanian gays than with the potential right-wing successor.

The right-wing strength

The real strength of the right-wing lies in the fact that between 1955/60 and the end of 1989 the whole social and economic structure of the country was changed. It used to be a rural country and Ceausescu simply imported people en masse from the countryside into the cities. … They have been cut off from their traditional life-world, and given nothing to replace it. They are cut off from their roots, and will clutch at anything which will give them an illusion of roots – or someone to blamed for their situation. That’s where the real strength of the right comes from.

In Cluj we have a fanatical nationalist mayor who when he visited a hospital clinic that does AIDS research, asked if they could develop a virus that would kill off Hungarians! His support comes from Romanians brought in from the countryside who are looking for somebody to blame. So the Hungarians in Transylvania are the scapegoats, in Moldavia and Wallachia it’s the Jews, and everywhere it is the Gypsies. There are pogroms against Gypsies almost every week in Romania. .. No-one speaks up for the Gypsies in Romania. Let me add, I am far from endorsing the claims of the Hungarian nationalists. Istvan Zurkei in Hungary is as bad or worse as the Mayor of Cluj. There is a great deal of historical responsibility that hasn’t been faced by the Hungarians, in terms of their own rule in Transylvanian history, in sustaining a really very brutal feudal system longer than almost anywhere else in Europe.

C.M-S.: So what can we do to help?

Scott L.: Write letters. Two weeks ago the Romania Minister of Justice have us an interview in which he said, “The law against homosexuals has not been repealed and this seems to me entirely normal. If we let homosexuals do as they please, it would mean entering Europe through the backside. Homosexuals are our last problem.”

There are between half a million and two million homosexuals in Romania. Gays and lesbians are one of the largest minorities and NOT the last problem of the Romanian Government – and the minister needs to be reminded of that. I would like people to contact their own foreign ministries, to find out who their representatives are at the Council of Europe, and try to get the to raise the treatment of homosexuals in Romania as it applies for admission to the Council of Europe – and integrates itself with the other European structures. When we asked the two parliamentarians supporting the repeal of Article 200 what is the most important thing, both said instantly, “Outside pressure.”

Whenever foreign delegations come to Romania the need to ask about homosexuals. When Romanian officials go abroad they need to be asked about the situation of gay and lesbians. When Ilescu goes to France or Germany somebody needs to be there to say, “What about homosexuals in Romania?” He was interviewed on the BBC about two years ago in a phone-in interview. Someone called in and asked about laws against lesbians and gays in Romania. He replied “we don’t have lesbians and gays in Romania.”

Who then are the people being prosecuted and imprisoned for homosexual acts

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