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17th Aug 2019

Romanian authorities neglect Strasbourg request in dramatic case

The head of an association representing the families of young street protesters shot during the Romanian Revolution of 1989 has been on hunger strike for over two months over the refusal of authorities to heed a European Court for Human Rights demand that he be granted access to secret files about the events.

After 72 days on strike, Teodor Maries scored a small victory on Tuesday (13 October), when the Romanian public attorney started to hand over to him all the non-secret files of the violent events surrounding the fall of the Communist regime.

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  • Twenty years after the 1989 events, there still is no justice for the protesters who were shot (Photo: Wikipedia)

Back in December 1989, more than 1,200 people were killed and over 5,000 were injured and illegally arrested in Bucharest and other Romanian cities. The culprits have still not been put behind bars.

Mr Maries on Tuesday said he would not stop his protest until the secret services de-classify all the remaining files and give him copies, which he intends to make public.

According to the press office of the Strasbourg-based European Court for Human Rights, the Romanian authorities have a deadline of 30 October to grant Mr Maries access to all the "relevant" files in his case. An emergency procedure, the so-called Rule 39, was applied in his case due to the urgency of Mr Maries' health condition.

The head of the "21 December" association, representing the families of the youngsters shot in the murky events of 1989, took Romania to the Strasbourg court for having failed, 20 years after the fact, to properly investigate and prosecute those who shot at people.

Part of the complaint is filed on behalf of a couple – Elena and Nicolae Vlase, whose 19-year old son was found dead with visible signs of torture on 27 December 1989. According to the death certificate, he was shot to death, but the military prosecutors failed to identify any other violence inflicted upon him. A military court ruled in 1994 that he had been killed "by mistake," with no order to kill being issued, but rather due to the "stress, state of tiredness and fear of so-called terrorists the soldiers were subjected to."

The Vlases filed an appeal and in 1999, another court ruled that the previous verdict had been wrong and tried to protect the culprits. A new investigation was opened, which is still ongoing 10 years later, and which is why the family of the victim sued Romania for taking too much time. The European Convention on Human Rights provides for cases concerning the right to life to be carried out with maximum speed.

Securitate still present

Declassifying the secret police files on the events of December 1989 would be a major breakthrough in a country where the former Securitate leadership had an easy life after the fall of Communism. Lustration laws - rules limiting the participation of former Communists and police informants in the post-revolutionary administration - were systematically watered down by the parliament, where former secret police chiefs still had a big say, either directly or through their political allies.

Nobel prize winner for literature Herta Muller, who was for decades followed by the Securitate in the city of Timisoara, where the "Revolution" started on 16 December 1989, recalled in an op-ed recently published in The Guardian the horrors of her experience.

"For me, each journey to Romania is also a journey into another time, in which I never knew which events in my life were co-incidence and which were staged," she wrote.

"This is why I have, in every public statement I have made, demanded access to the secret files kept on me that, under various pretexts, have invariably been denied me. Instead there is evidence that I am still under observation."

Reading the group files on herself and other dissidents of German ethnicity is a "poisoned truth," she said, as the former secret police has erased some of the information which would have compromised them, for instance the beating up of a German journalist who came to visit her or the "suicide" of one of her closest friends, which Ms Muller thinks was staged.

"This lacuna shows, too, that the secret service has deleted the acts of their full-time staff, so that no one can be held responsible as a result of file access – they have seen to it that the post-Ceausescu Securitate has become an abstract monster without culprits," Ms Muller said.

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