The Drone case. PEN Romania’s Protest against an unusual Abuse of the Authorities

On February 5th, Cătălin D. Constantin, author, editor, and associate professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Bucharest, Romania, was taken by representatives of the public force from the Piața Victoriei (Victoriei Square), a central location in Bucharest where around 300,000 people were currently demonstrating against measures taken by the Romanian Government that threatened an ongoing anti-corruption campaign. Mr Constantin was brought to a police constabulary and, after several hours of harassment and interrogation, he was notified that he was criminally prosecuted for having used a non-registered civil drone in order to take panoramic images of the square.

By manipulating the lack of specific provision in the Romanian legislation regarding this type of technological device, the inquiring authorities abusively assimilated Mr Constantin’s civil drone with a “non-registered aircraft missing a navigation certificate”. This discretionary assimilation was meant to support the conclusion that the registration tax Mr Constantin were supposed to pay was the one charged from a regular airline for a regular airplane. Consequently, the piloting of an unregistered flying device would entice a sentence of three to seven years in prison.

In our view, these proceedings are instruments of pressure and intimidation used against Mr Cătălin D. Constantin for having exercised his civic right of protesting against an abusive measure of the Romanian Government. It should be added that this measure has been publicly condemned by PEN Romania, with the support of PEN International, and that it also generated the criticism of prominent representatives of the European Union. It is also obvious to us that the pressures exercised over Mr Constantin as well as over other participants to the same wave of anti-government manifestations who face similar charges, are meant to discourage civic protest in general.

In our view, this is an extreme case of using public institutions in the private interest of the majority in the Romanian Parliament that supports our acting Government. But even more severe and disquieting is the brutality with which, under such a shallow pretext, the authorities infringed on the right to free expression of opinions and ideas – a principle and a value for the protection
of which PEN International was created in the first place. As if these abuses weren’t enough, we have to note that Mr Constantin was brutally prevented from the exercise of his profession, since, besides his totally legal and legitimate participation to the popular protest, he was on the said premises in his scientific capacity, doing research for an international project of analyzing the symbolic functions, more often than not political, of the public squares of European cities.

We should add that, besides the indignation generated by any abuse against the freedom of expression, we resent this case as a violation of the rights of a fellow writer. In his anthropological work, Mr Constantin employs the same means of empathy and expressiveness as the poets, playwrights, essayists, and novelists that convene in our association. His works expose a distinct literary quality which, in our view, fully qualifies him as an accomplished author.
Therefore we feel that the pressures exercised against Mr Constantin affect, offend, and outrage us all, as members of an international association dedicated to the protection of the civic rights of writers.

Considering the above circumstances, PEN Romania imperatively urges the Romanian authorities to drop immediately and unconditionally all the charges and the investigative procedures launched against our esteemed colleague Cătălin D. Constantin.


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