An Amazing Judicial Decision about the Repression of MISA

by Gabriel Andreescu

Something happens in the Romanian justice system. In the trial of the 21 MISA members, mainly accused with trafficking, the Cluj Court acquitted all defendants. The skeleton in the closet of Romanian democracy, i.e. the suppression of MISA, one of the most blatant of human rights violations in post-Communist Romania, is brought to light. The motivation, made public only recently, containing more than one hundred pages, impressive by their severe, exact, nuanced and fluent tone, represents an indictment of the activity of the criminal prosecution body DIICOT, and of the institutions that supported the direction against the defendants. By acquitting the defendants, the Cluj Court   passed the big test of justice – i.e. to save the innocent, and more generally, to do justice.

Changes in the justice system have been visible for some time. Ten years ago, it seemed unimaginable that Adrian Năstase, Viorel Hrebenciuc, Gigi Becali, Sorin Ovidiu Vântu, Dan Voiculescu or George Copos might be put behind bars. Convicting people with political and/or financial power represents an indisputable strengthening of the rule of law. Only that, in several cases when such notoriety was implied, abuse of process was claimed. Sometimes, arguments seem persuasive although, as everything depends on details, punctual judgement should be avoided. In addition, the ”blossoming” of justice system through convictions and the satisfaction, even if grounded, of sending to prison the oligarchs who have been defying us for decades, feeds instincts that are not favourable for a decent society. There is a danger that justice can be equated with hunting and punishing people. Or, like I said, the big test of the justice system is to save the innocent, and to do justice.

We know the way the test was passed from the wave of decisions taken by CEDO who found the Romanian State guilty of violating rights and freedoms. The complaints arrived in Strasbourg only after the internal competent authorities pronounced their sentence. Therefore, the conviction of the European court is equivalent to a bad mark given to the Romanian justice system.

The Courage to Save the Rule of Law

Sometimes though, on this pessimistic background, appear decisions that shine through their courage to save the rule of law. I will explain further why the decision of the Cluj Court would be a remarkable example.

According to the Court’s estimates, the action of the authorities against MISA (The Movement for Spiritual Integration in Absolute) members and sympathizers has had a ”repressive character”, seriously violating their freedom of conscience.In the motivation of the decision reads that the ”real and obvious purpose of the indictment and of prosecuting the defendants” was not criminal liability but ”the dismantlement of this yoga school by discouraging its members to exercise their freedom of conscience”. [1]
So that the reader might grasp the spirit, the content and the logic of the document, here’s an ample quote from the motivation of judge Ariana-Lăcrimioara Ilieș, court president: ”Nothing proves better the manufacture of a serious repressive action against MISA members and supporters than the inconsistency of the allegations. In spite of the hundreds of police officers, Intelligence Service agents who worked on the case, and of the huge amounts of money spent on this investigation, all that was achieved were some statements made by adults who have equated trafficking with the voluntary work which they claimed they carried out within the dwellings called ”ashram”, where they had chosen to live on their own initiative and at their request”.

The authors of the statements demanded large sums in compensation, on the ground that they were trafficked, although they were free to leave those homes and although there was no minimal evidence for their coercion. In more detail, according to the venue: “It is particularly revealing that the civil party sought to file a criminal complaint […] more than three years after the alleged acts, whose victim he claimed he was. Related to the fact that the latter declared in front of the prosecuting authorities that after September 2001 he no longer lived and worked in the “ashram”, one cannot but ask how this person came to be considered by the Prosecutor the injured party and then the civil party in question?” In another case:”The civil party […] turned from ”accused” into an instrument of the Prosecutors’ Office and agreed to take over almost the entire content of the disposal of initiation of prosecution in his statements, in order to save his building from being confiscated and to get material compensation, in his turn.” By such passages, the judge at the Cluj Court suggests that DIICOT manufactured a trial. Or, an accusation of such gravity, even implicit, should lead to an ex officio investigation of the Superior Council of Magistracy.

The request made by the prosecutor of the case to the Romanian Gendarmerie to provide troops for searching 16 properties under the motivation of drug trafficking and prostitution contained “false elements relating to the investigation”. Special forces “were armed and carried out barbarian searches”, which “have broken all the provisions of criminal procedure” and from the ashrams were lifted personal belongings that had no connection with the search.

It can be easily checked that “the persons found in the buildings searched have been subjected to psychological and even physical torture for hours”. But the fact that a judge has described the action of public officials in these terms, is in the given context, an act of courage. The gendarmes, she explains, climbed the fences, the walls, they broke the doors, the windows, without giving explanations as to the reason for these raids. Through the way they acted, “they engendered a sense of terror and panic among the occupants of those houses, which is outlawed”. The persons found in the buildings wanted to open the rooms, but the gendarmes “ignored they were offered keys and savagely smashed doors, windows and other access routes” – contrary to the requirements of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The judge has given due attention to the “technical-scientific” findings required by DIICOT, the decision from Cluj reviewing the relevant details in order to reveal their significance. Thus, “the introduction of these so-called technical-scientific findings in the prosecution file was achieved long after the completion of the search at the parties’ homes”. Their role was obviously to “confirm” and not to direct the behavior of the state institutions as would have been natural. The “Specialists” chosen by DIICOT guaranteed from the start the outcome of the action by taking over the speculation already drawn up by the prosecutors. None of the so-called experts has fulfilled the basic “criteria of professionalism”. For instance, by hiring “expert” Tudorel Butoi and his company SC Croma SRL, the prosecuting authority “flagrantly violated” the Criminal Procedure Code. The one in question was not a specialist in judicial psychology, assuming “unlawfully this quality” to sign an “onerous contract” with the State.

 Here is as follows, in the considerations of the Court, an appeal to the legal doctrine with a stake that is beyond the case in question: „Placing the specific activities of MISA members and sympathizers under the name of trafficking prejudices from the beginning the legality of the indictment of DIICOT, as the legality of incrimination excludes the interpretation of criminal law by analogy to facts unforeseen by the law. It is obvious that the incrimination of trafficking did not aim at prohibiting voluntary activity or the right of the groups to define a community life of their own”.

The Relevance of MISA Case for the Romanian Justice and Society

The Movement for the Spiritual Integration into the Absolute (MISA) is a tantra yoga school, founded immediately after 1990 by a group of yogis active over the past communist decade, followers of yoga teacher Gregorian Bivolaru. All had been hunted by the State Security, many were beaten, some were imprisoned. Bivolaru was sentenced, subjected to inhuman treatment and finally, admitted to the psychiatric hospital Poiana Mare. [2]

Shortly after its establishment, MISA was spotted by the S.R.I. (The Romanian Intelligence Service) who had hunted the founders before the Revolution. Since 1993, several newspapers have launched campaigns of vilification, some institutions have been mobilized to carry out harassment, and since 1996, the police began preventing Yoga sessions. It all culminated in 2004 with brutal and largely publicized actions. MISA students were charged with trafficking of arms, people and drugs, financial crimes etc, while gendarmes troops stormed the ashrams of the organization. The prosecutors, assisted by journalists offered the media images with syringes, insane stories, coverages of half-naked girls awakened by masked men, armed with rifles. An action of force and manipulation as when the miners came to Bucharest.

The Prosecutor’s Office was never able to find any weapons or drugs, or any MISA member or sympathizer practicing illegal activities. However, slander has not stopped and many court actions are still pending. In 2005, the spiritual leader of MISA, Gregorian Bivolaru was granted political asylum by the Supreme Court of Sweden. In 2013, the High Court of Cassation and Justice sentenced him in absentia to six years in prison in a trial the ending of which was manipulated. In 2013, DIICOT indicted 21 members of MISA after prosecutors convinced several former practitioners they could earn hundreds of thousands of euros if they denounced their former exploitation through voluntary work. In 2014, The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned the Romanian State for violating the right to liberty and security, the right to respect for private and family life of Dana Atudorei, MISA  member.[3] Other complaints submitted to ECHR by victims are expecting the verdict of the Strasbourg Court.

There are, of course, many other details regarding MISA[4] and the events in which it was involved. Above all, what count most are the repressions that affected directly or indirectly thousands of people – one of the most serious violations of human rights in post-communist Romania.

No matter how thorough, there was no way and no reason for the Cluj Court to handle the weaving of connections that pushed things to the degree of violence and institutional vitiation, which I recounted. Causal determinism has been documented in MISA – Radiography of a Repression. [5]

In short, the “MISA case” is a consequence of the continuity of the regime before and after the Revolution.
People who were active in the system of repression and propaganda until 1989 found themselves in decision-making positions in the Intelligence Service, in the government, in Parliament, were found to lead order institutions and acted through a “natural” solidarity in the repression against MISA members. Among the officials who were brought into public discussion, are to be mentioned Gelu Voican Voiculescu, known to the former yogis, the first chief of UM025, Vasile Manea Drăgulin, attorney general between 1993-1996, involved in the psychiatric abuse against Bivolaru; Rodica Stănoiu, informer for the Security and minister of Justice in 2004; Adrian Năstase, prime minister in the same year, once a contact for former Foreign Intelligence Service officer, Ristea Priboi who participated as well, in the repression against yogis in 1980; generals Costică Voicu and Dumitru Sorescu, investigated for the incineration of bodies at Timișoara, and who later became leaders of the Police.

Such a context gives the value for the decision of the Cluj Court.

Civism, Feminism and the MISA Case

The severity of qualifiers found in the motivation of the Cluj Court decision, the accuracy of the facts presented, the honoring of legal thinking explain why we speak of an amazing judicial decision on the violation of human rights in Romania.

If the situation looks as described by the Cluj Court, how is it possible that the Romanian society has not been aware from 2004 until today of human rights violations of such magnitude? The MISA case is an exceptional phenomenon even related to public attitude. It is the greatest stain on the face of Romanian press. In interpreting the cavalcade of miners in Bucharest, in June 13-15, the pro-Iliescu press had been as manipulative but countered by România Liberă and other opposition newspapers and magazines. In the Misa case, the press operated according to a monopoly. It has turned from watch dog in hunting dog.

Between March 2004 – October 2005 the national televisions (including TVR1,  Reality TV, National TV and OTV) broadcast over 570 hostile news. Sometimes, the press has incited violence against MISA followers. In the best case, it remained silent, and the voices that condemned the repression were very few. Amazingly, human rights organizations were extremely discreet. Apart from the Helsinki Committee, fully involved in countering the montage and the Pro Europa League, always at the forefront of sensitive cases, other Romanian NGOs refused to take a stand against the events. A big issue is the absence of feminist protests. Most vulnerable to the brutalities were girls and women who were MISA members/simpathizers and who were exposed and bullied on the national screens. Militant feminists, quite vocal when an official drops a sexist stereotype, were absent when the institutions of macho culture (the Prosecutor’s Office, the Police, the Gendarmerie, the Romanian Intelligence Service) dragged almost naked girls in front of the cameras, making them ”available” for the incited viewers, soiling their names with slander, putting them into humiliating situations. If in 2004, many of the feminist NGOs, active today, did not exist, they could at least have recovered in recent years, when indecent treatment of MISA members returned in the press in the same way.

The situation calls for a meditation on good citizenship, on its authenticity or an investigation of it, but also on the prospects of the ethical ”decency” of the Romanian society. It is not difficult to see how in the manifestations of public opinion, expressions that should restore the truth when ”scandal news” has been proven to have been false, are almost entirely absent. Instead, mockery abounds. Instead of debates, prides clash. The lesson from Cluj is that in time justice may act as a civilizing factor, due to its ability to correct injustices.

[1] The court had announced from the beginning that it refrains from describing the writ of summons, since from the enormous file of 1,000 pages, only one third relates to facts. Other parts, such as an ”essay” of a priest and a psychological analysis of the MISA phenomenon would be unusable.

[2] See, in this respect, Gabriel Andreescu, The Suppression of the Yoga Movement in the 80s, Polirom Publishing House, Iași, 2008. In 2012, the Bucharest Court recognized through a final decision the political character of the sentence and of the psychiatric hospitalization in the case of Gregorian Bivolaru.

[3] The Strasbourg Court granted the plaintiff a compensation of 15,600 euros.

[4] Surprising are the writings of some members, supporters of nationalism and conspiracies, who have no connection with yoga. On the website of the organization appear strange articles as if aimed to compromise the school. Moreover, the persons responsible for the site and its content are not determined by the representative bodies of the organization. These statements are in disagreement with the culture of the organization, based on nonviolence, and anyway are not relevant in the context of MISA members’ repression.

[5] Gabriel Andreescu, MISA. A Radiography of a Repression, Polirom Publishing House, Iași, 2013.


June 2016


Also available in: Română

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