Source: Ziarul de Gardă*
ARTICLE 19 condemns the climate of fear created by the Moldovan government, including the intimidation and censorship of dissenting voices and the media. The organisation calls on the authorities to release all those imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their views, and urges them to establish the whereabouts of those that have allegedly “disappeared”. ARTICLE 19 also demands that that those peacefully expressing their views are protected from arbitrary detention and police brutality.
On 7 April, following a peaceful protest on 6 April by up to 10.000 people to ‘mourn’ the outcome of the elections, rioting broke out in the capital of the Republic of Moldova, Chisinau. Independent reports indicate that police used excessive force to disperse the demonstration. As a smaller protest continued on 8 April, police, both in plain cloths and in uniform, intimidated and attacked groups of protesters and journalists.
According to local reports, a group of young people were taken by police in plain clothing behind the National Palace in Chisinau, where they were beaten up and driven away in cars to an undisclosed location. Journalists from ‘Ziarul de Garda’ a national newspaper, who attempted to take pictures of the incident, were in turn assaulted by unidentified people in uniform and others dressed in black, who quickly removed themselves from the scene once a TV crew arrived. Uniformed police officers present refused to intervene and police did not respond to telephone calls by the journalists.
In another incident on 8 April a cameraman, Oleg Brega, leaving the protests in the evening, was attacked by people dressed in black, who stole his camera and he had to receive hospital treatment. On 9 April, together with another journalist he failed to return his phone calls and his whereabouts are currently unknown. His colleagues fear he has been arrested by police: ‘We don’t know where they and others are and will start an intensive search by visiting police stations in every district of Chisinau’, said Vanu Egheri of the Moldovan Institute for Human Rights.
On 9 April, local sources indicate that a number of students, who participated in the demonstrations, were removed from their university building in two cars and taken to an unknown location. At least 200 people, including minors, are currently in detention in relation to the demonstrations.
According to the local Independent Journalism Center at least 20 Romanian journalists were reportedly denied entry to Moldova on 7 and 8 April and internet sites, both news and social networking sites such as Facebook were blocked. The re-transmission of at least two TV service providers of a Romanian TV channel was stopped and the public broadcaster did not show any live footage of the demonstrations.
Although the organizers of the 6 April demonstration have immediately distanced themselves from the 7 April demonstration and the violence that followed, the Moldovan General Prosecutor’s office has indicated it is opening up to 30 criminal cases against the instigators of the 6 April demonstration, holding them responsible for the mass disturbances under Article 285(3) of the Criminal Code. If convicted they could be imprisoned for up to 8 years. They could also be charged with an attempt to overthrow the government, which is punishable with up to 25 years imprisonment.
“ARTICLE 19 is deeply worried about the current level of repression and crackdown in Moldova . We are extremely concerned about the well being of our colleagues and their friends and families, and all peaceful demonstrators, facing arrest and violence, and possible “disappearances». The crackdown is a sad reflection of the inability of the Moldovan government to govern and provide for its people”, said Dr. Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.
ARTICLE 19 considers that the current climate of fear, through intimidation, attacks and possible ‘disappearances’ of peaceful demonstrators and journalists, and the censorship of the media, through assaults on journalist, entry bans and blocking of websites violate fundamental human rights, and in particular the right to freedom of expression. The fundamental right to freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the Republic of Moldova acceded to in 1993 and is bound to uphold. If the authorities fail to conduct a prompt investigation into the allegations mentioned above they will further breach their obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights, which entered into force in Moldova in 1997.
As further protests are imminent, initiated by unknown organizers via SMS, ARTICLE 19 calls on the Moldovan government to ensure that the peaceful protesters are able to speak out and journalists can report without fear in accordance with international human rights standards.
*Editor-in-chief of the paper is Aneta Grosu, who is also president of the AEJ Section in Moldova.