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Vardanian Update

Moldova - Ernest Vardanian, independent journalist, Tiraspol
Moldova - Ernest Vardanian, independent journalist, Tiraspol

Ernest Vardanian remains in jail after being arrested by security agents in Moldova’s breakaway Transdniester region on April 7 on accusations of espionage and treason, RFE/RL’s Moldovan service reports. Vardanian faces a prison term of 12 – 20 years if found guilty.

RFE/RL’s Moldovan service reported on April 19 that Vardanian has been presented with an official accusation of “state treason,” and that Tiraspol’s Supreme Court had denied his plea to change the terms of his detention and release him pending investigation of the case.

State security officials have declined to give any information about the arrest or prospective trial, but spokesman Andrei Cebotari said on Monday: "Very soon, in days, there will be details about this case which will be distributed by the state security ministry of Transdnestr."

Moldovan political analyst Andrei Safonov told RFE/RL that the case is mysterious and lacks any precedent. He criticized the government’s refusal to release any details, saying that society had a right to know the conditions surrounding Vardanian’s detention, and that the failure to provide them “could be interpreted as an attempt to intimidate others.” He added, “if information continues to be suppressed, of course no one can feel safe… non-governmental organizations, NGOs, mass media, they are most certainly worried.…..
if information continues to be suppressed, of course no one can feel safe… non-governmental organizations, NGOs, mass media, they are most certainly worried....

Vardanian is reportedly in an isolation unit serving a 60-day pre-trial detention order.

Moldovan officials and international human rights and media freedom groups were quick to condemn the charges and demand Vardanian’s release. Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Viktor Osilov said last week that such actions violate fundamental human rights and freedoms and undermine efforts to build trust on both sides of the Dneistr river.

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.”

U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Asif J. Chaudhry told RFE/RL on April 15 that he met separatist leader Igor Smirnov in the Transdniester capital city Tiraspol the previous day and told him the U.S. government and the international community are "concerned" about the case.

Transdniester's official news agency, Olvia Press, reports that Smirnov has promised that Vardanian will have "a fair trial."

Vardanian, 33, is a well-known independent journalist in both Chisinau and Tiraspol. He is a staff reporter and political analyst for the Chisinau-based newspaper Puls and a freelancer for the Russian Internet news agency Novy Region. He contributes to Europa Libera, RFE/RL’s Moldovan language service, and had tentatively accepted an offer to launch a blog on the service’s website this week

Three Romanian members of the European Parliament have launched an online petition calling Vardanian's arrest "unacceptable" and demanding his immediate
release. Cristian Presa, one MEP, told RFE/RL that he and his colleagues will seek concrete proposals on Vardanian’s behalf when the Parliament convenes in Strassbourg next week.

Oliver Vujovic, Secretary-General of the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) has called the charges against Vardanian unacceptable and demanded that Tiraspol’s Ministry of Security withdraw them.

RFE/RL's O wire and Moldovan service contributed to this report.