Ion Iliescu was born on 3 March 1930 in Oltenita, Romania.
In 1953, he joined the Romanian Communist party and he quickly became one of its most prominent and influential members. He remained a member until 1971 when he was expelled by order of party leader Nicolae Ceausescu.
In the following years, Iliescu became the head of the opposition movement National Salvation Front which contributed to the ousting of Ceausescu in 1989.
On 15 December 1989, a month after Ceausescu was re-elected as head of the Communist Party, anti-government riots broke out in Timisoara, West Romania, against the country’s Communist regime. The military was sent in to control the riots, but the army failed to establish order.
The riots subsequently spread to other cities, including to the capital Bucharest, following the opening of fire on the protesters by the army, allegedly on Ceausescu’s order. The riots quickly turned into bloody street battles between the angry mass and those loyal to the President.
Amidst the fights, Ceausescu attempted to flee Romania with his wife on 22 December 1989. However, they were captured, tried and summarily executed on 25 December. Following the news of the couple’s death, the street protests finally subsided. In all, over 1’100 people were killed, and over 3’350 were injured during the December protests in various Romanian cities. Reportedly, immediately after Ceausescu’s fall, the National Salvation Front, headed by Iliescu, assumed power and announced the abolition of the one-party system in Romania.
In May 1990, Iliescu was elected President of Romania and remained in position until 1996.
Between 13 and 15 June 1990, peaceful anti-government protesters were confronted by over 10’000 pro-government miners, and the protests were then violently repressed by governmental forces. During the demonstrations, known as the ‘Mineriad’, four people were killed, 1’388 were injured and 1’250 people were arbitrarily arrested. Allegedly, Iliescu called the minors of Valea Jiului, the country’s main coal basin, to go to Bucharest and pacify the “punks” and “thugs”. Iliescu is also believed to have subsequently thanked the miners for “answering our call”.
“1989 REVOLUTION” CASE
In 1990, the Military Prosecutor’s Office in Romania opened a criminal investigation into the events of the December 1989 revolution and those responsible for it.
On 14 October 2015, after almost 26 years of prolonged investigation, the military prosecutors within the High Court of Cassation and Justice in Romania decided to close the case on all charges, including on war crimes, genocide, and manslaughter. The prosecutors claimed there was no evidence to prosecute anybody as responsible for these events.
However, on 6 April 2016, the interim General Prosecutor sought to reopen the investigation, including on charges of genocide. In December 2017, the military prosecutors alleged that the 1989 protests were triggered by an orchestrated movement, led by army officers and some civilians, which included a deliberate misinforming campaign disseminated through broadcasting media. These individuals are reported to have taken power immediately after Ceausescu fled from office on 22 December. These findings reportedly raised questions as to whether the December 1989 events amounted to a revolution, or to a coup d’etat.
On 2 April 2018, the General Prosecutor asked Romanian President Klaus Iohannis that Iliescu be charged with crimes against humanity for his role in the December 1989 revolution. The Prosecutor also requested the prosecution of former Romanian Prime Minister Petre Roman and former Deputy Prime Minister Gelu Voican Voiculescu.
On 13 April 2018, the Romanian President approved the request and asked the Justice Minister to proceed with the prosecution of Iliescu, Roman, and Voiculescu.
In 2005, investigations for murder against Iliescu related to the quashing of the 1990 ‘Mineriad’ protests were initiated by Romanian prosecutors but were discontinued several years later and the charges against the suspects were dropped.
In November 2014, the European Court of Human Rights found the lack of effective investigations into the incidents that occurred during the ‘Mineriad’ protests to be in violation of the right to life, the right to freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment, and the right to a fair trial of the people involved in the demonstrations.
In October 2015, the Military Prosecutor’s Section within the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the High Court of Cassation and Justice Office reopened investigations against Iliescu for having decided, organised and coordinated a general and systematic attack against the civilian population during the events from 13 until 15 June 1990 in Bucharest. The suspects, including Iliescu, were first called for questioning on 21 December 2015.
Iliescu denied calling the minors to Bucharest and claimed they came spontaneously.
On 13 June 2017, the Prosecutor’s office indicted Iliescu for crimes against humanity. According to a statement of the General Prosecutor’s Office, the attack illegally involved forces of the Interior Ministry, Defence Ministry, Romanian Intelligence service, as well as the minors and other workers from various areas of the country. Together, these forces allegedly carried out violent attacks against civilians associated with the protests, as well as against peaceful residents.
The trial against Iliescu and several other accused started on 20 February 2018 before the High Court of Cassation and Justice, and is currently ongoing.