Berlin, April 8, 2022 — Romanian authorities must conduct an independent investigation into the harassment and smear campaign against investigative journalist Emilia Șercan, investigate her claims that state officials participated in the campaign, and hold the perpetrators to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
Since January 18, when Șercan published an article alleging that Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă plagiarized his doctoral dissertation, she has been the target of harassment and smears campaign, according to Șercan, who spoke with CPJ by phone and email, a detailed account written by Șercan for her outlet, independent news website PressOne; and local reports. Șercan received a series of threatening email and social media messages and several intimate photos of her were shared on various adult and news websites.
Șercan believes the actions are part of a broader campaign in retaliation for her reporting, she told CPJ. She additionally claims that screenshots she provided to the police were leaked from her file and published on other websites, and that she believes “Romanian authorities first orchestrated and then disguised an operation meant to discredit” her.
“The threats and the suspicion of leaking evidence from a criminal investigation represent yet another attempt to silence me and make me abandon my work,” Șercan told CPJ, adding that she had her mobile phone analyzed by two independent cybersecurity teams, but they were unable to find proof of hacking, leading her to believe that police supplied the screenshots.
“Romanian authorities must ensure that Emilia Șercan can continue her reporting without fear and intimidation and investigate the journalist’s claims that state officials may have been involved in the campaign,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “It is totally unacceptable to harass an investigative journalist with information and photos involving her private life.”
On January 19 and February 2, Șercan received an email – reviewed by CPJ – calling her names and threating her privacy if she continued investigating the prime minister. She filed two criminal complaints with police.
An unknown person sent Șercan a private Facebook message on February 16, which contained five intimate photos of her from around 20 years ago. On February 17, she contacted the police officer in charge of the investigation into the two previous criminal complaints and shared screenshots of the messages, which included the photos.
On February 18, the screenshot appeared on a Romanian language news website in Moldova, and then was shared by more than 70 Moldovan and Romanian websites. Șercan filed a third criminal complaint with police, and a fourth complaint for the possible leak.
In response to CPJ’s questions, the Bucharest police confirmed that a criminal investigation is ongoing but did not provide any further details.
In 2019, Șercan received death threats after she reported on alleged plagiarism by a former education minister, the dean of the police academy, and graduates of the country’s national security and intelligence academies, as CPJ documented at the time. As a result of the criminal investigation into the death threats, a police officer pled guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison and the dean and vice dean of the police academy were sentenced to three years for inciting blackmail, according to Șercan and news reports.