March 18, 2004 – 12 years later
by Maria Nicola
12 years passed since the “Christ” Operation, yet no clarification has been done. Back then, a brutal, over dimensioned armed attack took place against nonviolent yoga practitioners, who have done no offense against the law and who were not even accused for any infringement at that moment.
This entire action of the state authorities, action of a grotesque brutality, aimed to frighten the yoga practitioners, to terrorize them in order to obtain declarations that would incriminate the MISA yoga school for some suspicious activities. All the belongings from 16 locations of yoga practitioners were confiscated, hoping it would help find any proof to invent an accusation against them, their colleagues or yoga instructors.
The result? No incriminating declaration, no proof, no possible accusation. To cover this obvious failure, and also the outrageous abuses done by the investigation authorities, some files based on lies were engineered.
12 years later, yogis continue to practice yoga, the yoga school continues to function with great success, but nobody seems to be interested to explain what happened on 18th of March 2004 and to make what is right for the yogis unjustly charged, blamed by the media and terrorized by the investigating authorities. If not for these people, at least for the Romanian society which harbored this abuse in its space and which, by not explaining and not sanctioning the abuses in any way, it exposes itself to the risk of their reiteration.
March 18, in figures
300 prosecutors and counter-terrorism troops of the Gendarmerie perquisitioned in a violent way 16 houses of yoga practitioners, based on illegal warrants. More than 80 yoga practitioners were brutalized by gendarmes, threatened with weapons, taken and kept for interrogation. 5 trucks of evidence were taken away. The brutal interrogations took place for more than 12 hours. Those who were questioned were taken supposedly to give declarations as witnesses, without being told what the investigation is about, without being allowed to have access to a lawyer, to a telephone, and even to the toilette. From over 80 declarations taken under pressure (prosecutors wanted to force yoga practitioners to testify against Gregorian Bivolaru), one single declaration could be subsequently speculated as possible accusation against Gregorian Bivolaru – the declaration invented by prosecutors and signed by the minor, Mădălina Dumitru, who was forced to do that.
What followed? Investigations that cost 5 million euros. After all these, Gregorian Bivolaru was charged with a so-called sexual relation with a minor. After two favorable verdicts, ruling that the incriminated facts and victims did not exist, the High Court of Cassation and Justice in Bucharest reopened the case file citing Gregorian Bivolaru’s “right to defense” (even thou he has already been found not-guilty… twice) and sentenced him to 6 years in jail.
Subsequently, another trial for “trafficking human beings” started, where 48 yogishave been accused of “trafficking” 7 claimants who asked for millions of euros as compensations. 70 real estates were seized by authorities. In the file sent to the Court, only 22 defendants remained. The Cluj Court of first instance decided that the facts do not exist and acquitted all the 22 yogis.
The summary of the 300 gendarmes and prosecutors’ action: one single declaration taken by intimidation from a witness, and used to accuse Gregorian Bivolaru. After spending 5 million euros, authorities abusively convicted Gregorian Bivolaru for “sexual act with a minor”.
March 18, in the media
Media extensively presented the “Christ” Operation as being “the biggest operation of the Romanian police against organized crime”. Charges such as trafficking human being and drugs, organized crime etc. The investigating authorities gave to the press recordings from perquisitions, which were broadcast on different media channels. Also the media was filled with official statements promising the presentation of proofs that would sustain the accusations and information about the development of the investigation. The recordings from the perquisitions and the accusations were obsessively repeated by media for several days.
However, the proofs never appeared. In spite of this, a gradual slide from the first accusations to scandalous topics, such as urine-therapy and group sex, was engineered. For example, Sorin Ovidiu Bălan, famous Romanian investigation journalist who witnessed the perquisitions on the 18th of March, frenetically reported that “the Christ operation is the biggest action against illicit drug trading, trafficking human beings and prostitution”. Few weeks later, he changed his speech and pathetically announced that he saw with his own eyes, glued on the wall in a bathroom that was perquisitioned, a little note which suggested to “drink pee”.
Everything ended in a swoosh, with an instigating plea according to which MISA was a sect, and the Romanian Intelligence Service interfered to add the connotation of “endangerment of national security”.
Thousands of press articles that presented the “Christ” Operation neglected in unison to present the victim’s point of view. Almost no journalist noticed that after all those perquisitions and all media masquerade, no proof was presented and no explanation has been given. Journalists seemed not to observe that the “Christ” Operation was a complete fiasco, an useless investigation, a setup, an utmost injustice.
An inconceivable act in a democratic country, a gross abuse has been done in front of the people by violating the democratic legislation and the human rights. In the last 12 years, one single TV channel presented a journalist investigation on 18th of March perquisitions. During the Reflector show, the Romanian National Television (TVR) released some interviews, done by journalist Marius Georgescu, with the victims of these perquisitions. After this broadcast, TVR was accused by the National Audiovisual Council (CNA) for the inequality of the presentation, because the investigation missed, allegedly, to present the point of view of the accused ones (sic!). Despite all these, the investigators’ brutality has been showed by all those images presented on every TV channel on the 18th of March 2004.
March 18, 2004, in PSD stenographs and other disclosures
Following the press publication of PSD (Romanian Social-Democrat Party) secret stenographs, in the autumn of 2004, PSD lost the presidential elections (the PSD candidate was Adrian Nastase, and at that time he was prime minister and as well the party leader). PSD stenographs presented various frauds of the ruling party and the horrible corruption at its top.
These stenographs are also a huge proof which shows that the “Christ” Operation has been started on the political call of Adrian Năstase. Paradoxically, even if a part of the media published the PSD stenographs and abundantly commented them, the journalists did not pay any attention to the “Christ” operation disclosures presented there.
However, there are certain very rare exceptions. Renowned Romanian journalist Ion Cristoiu wrote few articles showing in a crystal clear way the meddling of the Romanian intelligence services and PSD leaders in this action against the yoga practitioners. Ion Cristoiu questioned Adrian Nastase in a TV show on this subject and obtained from him a revealing answer: the MISA case and the “Christ” Operation was a big mistake of the Năstase government.
On the opposite pole of mass media, the researcher Gabriel Andreescu published two very well documented volumes on the MISA case, which analyze with proofs the persecution against the Romanian yogis during the communist regime and also after 1989. The 2004 events were approached in these volumes with great attention, with rigor, showing witness interviews and presenting official documents. The most interesting results obtained by Gabriel Andreescu have been ignored by the press.
March 18, in official reports
Different organizations that defend the human rights presented the MISA case with utmost concern, because this case showed that in fact the Romanian society is far from being a functional democracy. We mention the report released in 2006 by the independent association SoJust (The Society for Justice) and the report of APADOR-CH on the human rights in Romania in 2004.
The French association CICNS (Centre d’Information et de Conseil des Nouvelles Spiritualités), a non-governmental organization with a special consultancy status for UN, presented the MISA case as a typical example of attack against an authentic spiritual school. The MISA case was presented in different international conferences on human rights, as were the special conferences of OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) or European Commission workshops.
Many members of the European Parliament brought in discussion the violation of human rights and of the law by the 18th of March 2004 actions, and the Romanian state has been interpellated many times on the abuses done in the “Christ” Operation. The Romanian authorities answer eluded the clarification of this case every time. In the last years, independent associations such as Soteria International and LAYMS continue to bring MISA case in the international forums attention periodically.
March 18, in Justice
The complaints of the 18th of March 2004 abuses’ victims have had a sinuous line in Justice. After a No Start for Prosecution given by prosecutor Elena Sandu in May 2005, yogis’ complaints arrived to the Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM), which decided in January 2006 that the prosecutors were not guilty of anything at all. The CSM decision is an utmost injustice and, we might say, an outrageous impertinence and insolence because it stated that yogis have had set up themselves those abuses, more precisely – the recordings broadcasted on all TV channels on 18th of March 2004 would be some scenarios produced and interpreted by yogi actors. The CSM decision also stated that all incriminating documents against the yogis that appeared in press (documents originating from investigation files) have been given right by the yogis to the media, and not by the prosecutors.
Complaints against the gendarmes have been also initially rejected, until the file got to the military prosecutor Dan Voinea. His investigation included interviews of the gendarmes who participated in the “Christ” Operation, and brought to light the violation of the criminal law and also the violence of the perquisitions. Just before he was about to end the investigation, gen. Dan Voinea has been removed not only from this investigation, but also from his position of head of the Military Prosecutors’ Offices. The file has been taken by another military prosecutor, col. Silvestru Boeru, in February 2008, who closed it with a No Start for Prosecution despite the evidences gathered by Dan Voinea. The appeal of yogis has been rejected and the file has been definitely closed.
After hundreds of memoirs, complaints, audiences and hundreds of yogi rallies, the ones guilty of the 18th of March 2004 abuses are in a very comfortable way protected by what the former Romanian president called “a wretched system”.
Justice for March 18, 2004?
Gregorian Bivolaru received political asylum in Sweden, in the end of 2005. Before accepting his request for protection by the state of Sweden as political refugee, Sweden rejected two requests of extradition issued by Romanian officials. The Swede justice has thus signaled in a very clear way, the law violation in the Bivolaru case, including what happened in the “Christ” Operation.
In 2015, the Cluj Court of first instance found not guilty all the 22 yogis unjustly accused of trafficking human beings in the engineered file produced after the “Christ” Operation. The justification of the judiciary ruling revealed the abuses, the violence, the illegality of 18th of March 2004 perquisitions. Obviously, the press did not publish a line from this revealing document.
After more than 11 years from this perquisitions, which can be considered a brutal weaponized assault upon yoga practitioners, the Court states categorically: “On the occasion of performing these perquisitions, all the criminal procedural dispositions which regulate this institution valid at 18.04.2004 have been violated”.
The document also highlights that the media masquerade has been done for dusting public’s eyes regarding the lack of evidence or accusations against yogis. Media manipulation aimed to compensate the fact that prosecutors discovered no offense which could be incriminated: „The vast majority of the published material on the MISA students had nothing to do with the reality, bearing in mind their real life style. (…) Through the press it has been pursuit to urge at hate and violence of the readers and spectators, with the purpose of «justifying» in this way the necessity of the actions performed by authorities against MISA practitioners, which had not the wanted «result»”, showed the document through which the Cluj Court motivates the verdict – not guilty – for the yogis.
These two Court rulings (the decision of Supreme Court of Justice in Sweden and the decision of the Court in Cluj) confirm the dimensions of the 18th of March 2004 abuses. Thus it is necessary, better later than never, for justice to be done and the truth concerning 18th of March 2004 to be exposed.