The wife of independent journalist Ernest Vardanian says he has been arrested in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region and charged with espionage and high treason, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.
Vardanian's wife Irina told RFE/RL that he was detained in front of their house in Tiraspol by several men who identified themselves as security agents on Wednesday, April 7. On April 10, he was ordered to serve 60 days of pre-trial detention. Vardanian could face up to 20 years in jail if found guilty.
No details about the charges were revealed, and officials at the Ministry of Security in Tiraspol refused RFE/RL's requests for comment and referred all questions to the court.
Vardanian is well-known in Moldova as an independent journalist whose articles and commentaries are often critical of officials in both Chisinau and Tiraspol. He was a correspondent for the Russian information agency New Region 2, and is a contributor to Radio Europa Libera, RFE/RL’s Moldovan service. He had accepted an offer to begin blogging for the service this week.
Condemning the accusations against Vardanian as unacceptable, members of the Moldovan government called for his immediate release and appealed to the OSCE and other international organizations to intervene. Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Viktor Osilov said that such actions undermine efforts to build trust on both sides of the Dneistr river and violate fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Ion Stavile, chief of Moldova’s Bureau for Reintegration, called the arrest “an exceptional incident, which can be viewed as an act of intimidation toward journalists in the Transdniester region, an attempt to restrict the rights of free speech, a violation of human rights.”
Grigory Volovoi, the chairman of the Transdniester Fund for Human Rights, told RFE/RL that the security forces in Transdniester are always sensitive to the mass media. “There have always been some kind of, let’s say, attacks, directly or indirectly initiated by the security forces in Transdniester.” He added that it is particularly apparent “that authorities in Transdniester are afraid of the so-called color revolutions,” a reference to the popular uprisings over the last decade that swept regimes from power in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. In this sense, Volovoi said, the arrest is a sign of the authorities’ weakness.
Compiled from RFE/RL's Moldova service and O-wire reports.