The wife of Ernest Vardanean, a journalist who has been detained in Tiraspol, the capital of the breakaway region of Transnistria, on charges of spying and high treason since 7 April, is very worried about his physical and mental health.
Irina Vardanean, who has just been allowed to visit her husband for only the second time since his arrest, said his physical condition has deteriorated considerably and he is suffering from depression. He has been subjected to hours of interrogation designed to exhaust him and make him confess to things he did not do, she reported.
She also said the Transnistrian authorities are still refusing to let her husband be represented by a lawyer, violating a fundamental right. They have rejected the Moldovan lawyer proposed by the family on the grounds that state secrets could be jeopardised.
Irina Vardanean has written to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev requesting his help. As the Kremlin has a great deal of influence over the Transnistrian government, she thinks this could be the best card to play.
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its dismay about Vardanean’s detention and treatment and calls for his release. In the meantime, it urges the authorities to allow him to see his lawyer, so that the proceedings can start running along legal lines.
Ion Manole, the head of the Moldovan human rights NGO Promo Lex, said the Transnistrian judicial authorities often bring charges of spying or high treason against government opponents in order to intimidate and silence them.
15.04.2010 Journalist facing long jail term : Does arrest signal campaign by breakaway region against pro-Moldovan journalists?
Reporters Without Borders condemns the detention of leading independent journalist and political analyst Ernest Vardanean in Tiraspol, the capital of the breakaway region of Transnistria. Arrested by the Transnistrian intelligence agency, the MGB, on 7 April, he is facing between 12 and 20 years in prison on a charge of high treason.
Vardanean, who is from Tiraspol, is currently being held in the breakaway territory’s national security headquarters after a court held a closed-door hearing and ordered him placed in pre-trial detention for two months.
According to a television station in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, the Transnistrian authorities have accused Vardanean under article 272 of the Transnistrian constitution of spying for Moldova. Transnistria declared itself independent of Moldova in 1990 but its secession has not been recognised by Moldova or any other state.
Reporters Without Borders fears that the Tiraspol authorities could, in an arbitrary and untransparent manner, impose a long jail sentence on Vardanean although they lack any grounds for doing so. His arrest may be the first move in a broader campaign against Transnistrian journalists working for Moldovan media who express views critical of the breakaway region’s authorities.
Vardanean’s wife Irina said his computer was seized when he was arrested. She still had not received any news from Vardanean or any information as to the conditions in which he was being held two days after his arrest.
He used to work for the Novii Reghion news agency but recently began freelancing. He is well known among Moldovan journalists for being critical of Transnistrian leader Igor Smirnov. He had been due to begin this week to write for a blog on the Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty Moldovan service’s website.
Journalists working in regions with lasting political conflicts are often in a delicate situation. There is always a danger of their falling victim to regional political rivalry and harassment of the press often foreshadows a resurgence in regional tension.
Located along Moldova’s eastern border with Ukraine, Transnistria declared its independence of Moldova after the USSR’s collapse. Supported by Russia, it has a constitution, a flag and an independent army but it has not been recognised by any country.