The Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania – Helsinki Committee (Asociaţia pentru Apărarea Drepturilor Omului în România – Comitetul Helsinki – APADOR – CH) published on its site a report concerning serious abuses perpetrated by state authorities in Pungeşti, a village that has been occupied by the riot police, and whose inhabitants have been beaten, fined, and terrorized because they stood upagainstaChevronshalegasextractionproject.
In the wake of the investigations carried out by the APADOR-CH team in Pungeşti, the organization concluded that the law enforcement units intervened in force, making use of violence repeatedly against the protesters from Pungeşti.
APADOR-CH showed in its report that the villagers from Vaslui County are too scared to file complaints, and request that the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Vaslui Court of Justice open an investigation into the abuses carried out by law enforcement units against the villagers. It is of public knowledge that tens of criminal files have been opened against the protestors – files that are currently being processed by the Prosecutor’s Office; several complaints have been filed against the riot police by ecological activists and protesters.
The conclusions contained in the APADOR-CH report were reached after APADOR-CH representatives arrived in Pungeşti, on the 17th of December, and carried out discussions with approximately 30 villagers and two ecological activists, but also with representatives of the relevant state authorities; the conclusions were further reinforced by live observations. The organization informs that the local inhabitants were hesitant about having their names appear in the report.
Once arrived in Pungeşti, the APADOR-CH representatives found the village under the control of police units: auto control filters were strewn on the departmental road linking it to the neighboring villages; Ministry of Internal Affairs vehicles followed any car entering the departmental road and until it got beyond the area occupied by Chevron. Roadside stops were and are forbidden, and the villagers live in a constant state of terror.
The inhabitants of Pungeşti complained about being under constant pressure; they are asked for ID papers even when taking their cows to the pasture or while fetching water from the well; they are fined for preposterous reasons: not wearing reflective vests, or lacking license plates on their bullock carts. Some villagers complained about having been aggressed; they affirmed they had seen people of all sorts – men and women, young and old – covered in blood after the intervention of the riot police.
The villagers from Siliştea complained about not being allowed to exit their houses and their courtyards after 6:00 p.m.; some of them affirmed they had been beaten by the riot police, just for breaching the order, that was given verbally. They also stated they are not allowed to walk through the village in groups of more than three persons.
The villagers that have fallen victim to the violence carried out by the law enforcement units are afraid to file formal complaints; those that have not been directly aggressed are afraid they may be the next in line. Pungesti has the feel of a place under siege.
Going through the events that led to the transformation of the municipality of Pungesti into a special
￼security area, held under the control of the police and of the riot police, APADOR-CH concludes that the law enforcement units repeatedly made use of violence against the protesters from Pungeşti; fundamental rights of the inhabitants of Pungesti are being violated under the pretext of the upholding of public order.
Fundamental rights granted by the Constitution to the people of the municipality of Pungeşti (be they protesters or not) are violated. The local inhabitants have seen restrictions imposed on their right to free circulation (art. 25),on their right to free expression (art. 30),on their right to information (art. 31) and free assembly (art. 39). Under the pretext of the maintenance of public order, and without receiving any official notification, the villagers are confronted, daily, with hardships specific to a place under siege. APADOR-CH considers that the decision taken by the authorities, to institute a special public safety area, is excessive. It requests that the restrictions be removed. We remind that the restriction of fundamental rights and freedoms is acceptable, according to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), only if three conditions are simultaneously fulfilled: that it be within the frame of the law; that it serve a legitimate purpose and that it be necessary, in a democratic society. The last of the three conditions supposes, amongst other things, a proportionate adequation of the restrictions to the aim that is pursued.
APADOR-CH also shows, in its report, that the riot police forces present within the limits of the municipality of Pungeşti refused any communication with APADOR-CH representatives; it was also impossible to contact the spokesman of the riot police force using the telephone number featured on the Internet page of the Police Department of Vaslui County.
The deputy mayor declared that the office of the mayor has not been notified through an official act about the institution of special measures in the area; the local police force refused to answer the questionsofAPADOR-CH,invokingthesecrecystatusofthesolicitedinformation. Chief commissioner Cătălin Popa merely declared that a decision exists, concerning the establishment of a special public safety area for an unlimited period of time; that decision has been taken at the level of the leadership of the Police Department of Vaslui County.
The full APADOR-CH report, detailing all the abuses that were ascertained to have taken place in Pungeşti, can be read on the site of the institution, at the address: http://www.apador.org/show_report_nf.php?id=338
We remind the reader that the inhabitants of Siliştea-Pungeşti, the locality for which the Chevron has received a license for the exploration of shale gas, are under 24 hour supervision by the law enforcement units; they are intimidated, fined, terrorized – all the above in order to ensure that the workings of the giant gas company Chevron are carried on “without disturbances”.
In mid-October, the inhabitants of Siliştea formed a human chain in order to prevent the installation of Chevron extraction equipment – as the company was about to install the first shale gas extraction rig that would function on the territory of Romania. The riot police acted in force, dispersing the human chain. The action was condemned by Romanians, who declared their solidaritywiththeprotestersfromVasluiCounty.Theechoesfound,bothnationallyand internationally, by the protest of the citizens of Pungeşti, led Chevron to decide a postponing of the operation.
One day after the protests took place in Siliştea, the local council decided to forbid shale gas extraction on the territory of the village; the local council members decided the same day that a referendum should be held on this topic.
The decision of the local council has been forwarded, for validation, to Vaslui-city, the county seat; however, it was sent back from there to the local village council, with a demand that the decision be revoked. The council members refused to comply. It was then decided by the Administrative Office of Vaslui County to take legal action against the decision that forbids the exploration and exploitation of shale gas on the territory of the village.
On the 2nd of December, the drilling equipment was once again sent over by Chevron – escorted, this time around, by the riot police. The local villagers were struck down, beaten, fined and assaulted; the villagewasoverrunbypoliceforces,andpatrolsroamed incessantlyitsstreets,bynightandbyday. When they arrived in Pungeşti, our reporters found a village under siege, terrorized by the riot police. Women in their old age told our reporters about having been hit in the chest with riot shields and trampled on over their hands with the boots by the riot police. People were beaten while fetching water from the well, or simply because they happened to be on the street. One villager was beaten because he was carrying a cross needed for a tomb.
On the 7th of December, there was a gathering of protesters from the whole country. Given the background of general discontentment, the protesters – possibly goaded on by provokers – entered the Chevron precinct. According to the riot police, they tore down the surrounding fence and threw stones towards the trucks and the equipment placed there.
Arrests, criminal files and fines followed in tow. The intervention of the riot police found a strong echo in the media; as a consequence, Chevron issued a communiqué through which it stated that work on the site was suspended. It was, however, resumed one day later, and the police from Vaslui came over to lend a helping hand to the gas company: the riot police forces dispatched there were supplemented considerably – a state of things that was also noticed, on the 17th of December, by the APADOR-CH representatives.