Romania's sacked anti-corruption chief was ousted from office for criticising the government's anti-graft legislation, according to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The ECHR today ruled Laura Codruța Kövesi, who was fired in July 2018, had her human rights violated by the controversial dismissal.
The court said Kovesi — later appointed the EU's first chief prosecutor — was denied freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial to contest her ousting.
"Her right to freedom of expression had been violated because she had been dismissed for those criticisms, which she had made in the exercise of her duties on a matter of great public interest," said the ECHR.
"One of her duties as [Romania's] anti-corruption chief prosecutor had been to express her opinion on legislative reforms which could have an impact on the judiciary and its independence, and on the fight against corruption.
"It appeared that her premature removal had defeated the very purpose of maintaining judicial independence and must have had a chilling effect on her and other prosecutors and judges in taking part in a public debate on legislative reforms affecting the judiciary and judicial independence."
Romania's then justice minister, Tudorel Toader, called for Kovesi's sacking in early 2018 because of "acts and facts intolerable to the rule of law".
Other reasons he gave for wanting to dismiss her included “excessively authoritative behaviour” and “denigrating the judiciary by giving interviews to international media”, sources told Euronews.
Kovesi said the ECHR ruling would help strengthen judicial independence across the continent.
“We all know that my dismissal was part of an intimidation campaign against the justice system, in an attempt to discourage the fight against corruption,” Kovesi told Romanian news channel Realitatea Plus.
"This ruling by the ECHR strengthens the position of all European magistrates, defending them from discretionary political interference.”
Kovesi spent five years as the head of the Romanian Anti-corruption Directorate and was widely praised for her achievements, which included the indictment of 14 Cabinet members, 53 lawmakers and a Romanian member of the European Parliament. In Romania, her removal was seen as political retaliation for her department’s successes.
She became a vocal critic of the judicial reform led by the Romanian Social Democrat party (PSD), which opponents said would compromise the independence of judges and weaken the country's fight against corruption.
Romania is ranked as one of the EU's most corrupt states by Transparency International and Brussels has been keeping its justice system under special monitoring since it joined the bloc in 2007.