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RFE Contributor Released From Prison In Transdniester

Ernest Vardanean, journalist
Ernest Vardanean, journalist
WASHINGTON -- The leader of the Moldovan breakaway region of Transdniester has released Ernest Vardanean, a journalist and occasional RFE contributor who was imprisoned for espionage last year.

"Ernest Vardanean is a highly respected professional journalist. We were outraged at his arbitrary treatment and welcome his release," says RFE Moldovan Service Director Oana Serafim. "We are especially pleased with this decision as RFE is in ongoing discussions with Ernest about joining Radio Europa Libera as a blogger, which we were planning prior to his arrest."

Vardanean, 30, was arrested in April 2010 in Tiraspol, Transdniester's unofficial capital, on suspicion of spying for Moldova's secret services. After a televised confession, which his family and colleagues believe was coerced, and a closed-door trial, Vardanean was convicted of treason and sentenced in December to 15 years in prison. At the time of his arrest, Vardanean was working for "Novy Region," a Russian news agency critical of Transdniester's authorities, and providing commentary for RFE's Moldovan Service, Radio Europa Libera.

In an exclusive interview with RFE soon after he arrived at his home in Tiraspol, Vardanean believes that support from many diplomats – including ambassadors from the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, and religious leaders from Russia, Armenia and Transdniester – paved the way for his release.

The U.S. Embassy in Moldova, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Moldovan government and international NGOs all denounced the case as violating due process and basic rights.

After the verdict was handed down, Moldova's then-Deputy Prime Minister Victor Osipov told RFE that Vardanean's case appeared to be an attempt by Transdniester's politicians to undermine the Moldovan government's efforts to build trust and confidence between Chisinau and Tiraspol. The Transdniester region broke away from Moldova in the early 1990s over fears that it would reunite with Romania and is not recognized internationally.

Vardanean also offered thanks to RFE for supporting him during his incarceration. “I greatly appreciate the attention that the journalists helped draw to my case. I listened almost each evening to Radio Europa Libera and I was glad that (RFE) supported me so intensely and so sincerely."

About RFE
RFE is a private and independent international news organization whose programs -- radio, Internet, and television -- reach influential audiences in 21 countries, including Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the republics of Central Asia. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).