A member of the European Parliament was the first target of a controversial plan to introduce a law that would make it illegal to defame Romania from abroad.
Cristian Preda — a member of the European People’s Party and a former adviser to ex-Romanian president Traian Băsescu, who is now in opposition — was summoned in front of a committee in Bucharest on Wednesday to respond to accusations he defamed his country.
The accusations relate to a statement he made in a Parliament plenary debate in late November, in which he criticized the Romanian government for making changes to judiciary laws through emergency decrees and said the country should not be allowed to vote at European level.
Romanian colleagues in the Parliament who belong to the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) said at the time his statements were “irresponsible, shameful and hateful against his own country,” according to news outlet News.ro.
A member of the Order of the Star of Romania — the country’s highest civil order, which is awarded by the president and which Preda was a recipient — also complained about Preda’s comments during a meeting of its honor council.
“It’s symbolic” — Cristian Preda
Preda told the hearing on Wednesday that in his role as an MEP he represented Romanian citizens, not the government.
“I said that immunity for opinions and votes expressed during a political mandate is absolute and one cannot be punished for it,” Preda said.
The honor council’s members are expected to cast their vote on whether to withdraw Preda’s decoration by April 19.
“It’s symbolic,” Preda said, adding the case was an opportunity for the ruling party to push through an agenda that seeks to punish government critics living abroad.
Parliament President Antonio Tajani tweeted his support for Preda on Thursday, calling him a dedicated European and a Romanian patriot. “The rule of law in Romania must be upheld: attempts to intimidate him and/or sully his reputation are unacceptable,” Tajani wrote.
PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, the head of the lower chamber of the Romanian parliament, has said he and other MPs want to draw up legislation that would sanction people who lie and defame their own country, according to news outletMediafax.