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Romania Judge Cristi Danilet poses with his book The Student And The Law. (file photo)

A reform-minded Romanian judge has been suspended from the judiciary over videos he posted on the social-media platform TikTok, a move that sparked widespread criticism and a sharp reaction from the U.S. Embassy on December 14.

Cristi Danilet, a judge in the northwestern city of Cluj, was suspended on December 13 by Romania's Superior Council of Magistrates (CSM), a body tasked with ensuring the independence of the judiciary, over two videos he posted on TikTok last year.

In one of the videos, Danilet, a martial arts practitioner, performs a martial arts exercise, while in the second he is cutting a garden hedge.

A CSM commission ruled that the videos amounted to “behavior that affects the image of the justice system.”

The decision can be appealed.

Danilet, who has a sizable social-media following, has for years been critical of Romania's corruption-ridden judiciary and promoted reforms.

Observers say Danilet's suspension amounts to a warning aimed at reform-minded judges who intend to run for a position on the CSM next year.

The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest said it was “deeply concerned" about Danilet's suspension.

“An independent justice that respects the rule of law is essential for any prosperous democracy,” the statement said, adding that President Joe Biden recently said at the Summit for Democracy that “democracy does not happen by accident.”

Romania, one of the poorest and most corrupt EU member states, saw massive protests in 2017 and 2018 against controversial judicial reforms pushed forward by the then-government led by the leftist Social Democratic Party (PSD).

That government was toppled in a no-confidence vote in 2019 but is currently back in power in a coalition with the center-right National Liberal Party (PNL).

With reporting by RFE/RL's Romanian Service
"I have always said, 'Do what you must do, no matter what,'" Lilia Chanysheva said.

Lilia Chanysheva, the former leader of a regional organization for jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, says she is preparing for the worst in her trial on extremism charges, but believes it would have been “a bigger tragedy” had she opted to flee the country before her arrest last month.

"I have always said, 'Do what you must do, no matter what,'" Chanysheva said in written answers to questions from RFE/RL on December 14. "Taking into consideration that I do not know even a single acquittal in politically motivated cases, I am preparing myself for the worst, but hope for the best."

Chanysheva was arrested in November in Bashkortostan’s capital, Ufa, on extremism charges in what legal experts have called an unusual prosecution that appears to target her retroactively for alleged crimes.

She was later transferred to a detention center in Moscow, where she is expected to remain in pretrial detention until at least January 9. In recent months, many associates of Navalny fled the country before they could be arrested. Navalny has been in prison since February.

Chanysheva and her husband, Almaz Gatin
Chanysheva and her husband, Almaz Gatin

"First days after the detainment I felt some calmness, a sort of a feeling that something that was supposed to happen happened,” Chanysheva said. “But now it is hard to stand separation from my husband. I am concerned about my parents. I miss my younger brother and his family.”

The 39-yer-old also worries that if she receives a lengthy prison term it will deprive her of being able to have children. She and her husband had been hoping for a pregnancy for six months prior to her detention, she said.

Chanysheva headed the local unit of Navalny's network of regional campaign groups until Navalny's team disbanded them after a Moscow prosecutor went to court to have them branded extremist. A court later accepted the prosecutor's appeal and labeled the national network extremist, effectively outlawing them.

Defense lawyer Vladimir Voronin said earlier that Chanysheva's arrest was the first of its kind since the movement was banned. The charges appear to be retroactive since the organization she worked for disbanded before it had been legally classified as extremist, he said.

Chanysheva, who has maintained her innocence from the first day of her arrest, does not know why she was the first among former associates of Navalny to be arrested after Navalny's networks were outlawed.

The case against her on a charge of "creation and leading an extremist group" is being investigated by the Investigative Committee's Main Directorate.

Navalny and associates Leonid Volkov, Ivan Zhdanov, Lyubov Sobol, and many others are also suspects in the case. Volkov, Zhdanov, and Sobol have fled Russia.

Chanysheva added that she regularly receives letters from relatives, other Russian citizens, and people in Europe and the United States.

The letters come from students, teachers, pensioners, retired police officers, and journalists, she said, adding that it’s important to her that there are so many letters.

“Those are real people who express concerns about me and support me, help me feel that I am not alone and everything I did was right," Chanysheva said.

Chanysheva reiterated that she considers herself "a happy person" because she lives "in accord with myself" and she hopes free people “appreciate each moment of their lives and live in accord with themselves, too.”

She also expressed her thanks to everyone “for the support and for everything you do to free me.”

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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