Civil society calls for investigation into surveillance of Romanian journalist Cătălin Tolontan
Dec 13, Bucharest: The undersigned members of IFEX, the global network promoting and defending freedom of expression worldwide, express their profound concern over the surveillance operations recently conducted by unknown persons against a prominent journalist in Romania. We express our hope that Romanian authorities will launch an official investigation into this case, and identify and punish the perpetrators of this serious attack on press freedom and democracy.
Investigative journalist Cătălin Tolontan was targeted by a spying operation on the night of 24 to 25 November, after the team of journalists he leads published several investigations about the responsibility of the authorities (The General Inspectorate for Emergency Situations - GIES) in the incident at the Colectiv club, the tragedy in which 60 people died on the 30th of October.
We are concerned that this spying operation may have been conducted by one of the many active intelligence structures in Romania, structures operating with little to no public oversight. The continued legacy of the communist-era Securitate has left Romania with the the highest number of intelligence agents per capita, under the employment of six different agencies. Private entities are also widely believed to have extensive spying operations associated with corruption and organised crime.
This is not the first time surveillance operations exposed have targeted journalists in Romania. The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) has previously admitted infiltrating undercover agents in the newsrooms in 2012, and in September 2014, a well-known journalist disclosed himself as an undercover agent of an intelligence service.
This culture of surveillance gravely endangers investigative journalism in Romania, a crucial component of democratic society that has almost disappeared in mainstream Romanian media. In the wake of the Colectiv tragedy, Romanian citizens are demanding accountable and transparent governance. A press free of the chilling and silencing effects of this kind of surveillance is critical to seeing that demand fulfilled.
We call for an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation of this incident to discourage similar incidents in the future, and believe it would constitute an important step towards demonstrating that the call for accountability from the Romanian people is being heard.
The Oslo Times