Interior Ministry searches television station, arrests employee

New York, September 11, 2006—Interior Ministry officials arrested an employee and searched the premises of an independent television station in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, while investigating accusations of bribe-soliciting last week, according to press reports and CPJ interviews. Ghenadie Braghis, sales director at the Chisinau branch of the Romanian television station Pro-TV, was arrested on Thursday evening and has been held incommunicado and without access to legal counsel.

A Chisinau court ruled behind closed doors on Sunday that Braghis is to remain in jail for 10 days while the police investigation continues, according to local press reports. Braghis’ lawyers have made several attempts to meet with their client, but authorities have denied them access, Pro-TV Chisinau Director Catalin Giosan told CPJ.

Police arrested Braghis on Thursday, accusing him of seeking a bribe of US$1,000 from a client. On Friday and Saturday evening, police seized all of the station’s contracts with advertisers over the last two years, Giosan told CPJ.

The arrest and searches followed Pro-TV Chisinau’s recent broadcasts highly critical of Interior Minister Gheorghe Papuc. The television station also recently ran a report criticizing the treatment of detainees in the custody of the Interior Ministry, according to international press reports. Pro-TV Chisinau broadcasts across Moldova from the capital.

“The Interior Ministry is trying to damage the credibility of the station,” Giosan told CPJ. “The charges against Braghis are against us.” Seven Moldovan journalist organizations released a statement today condemning the arrest and searches.

“We are concerned that the arrest of Ghenadie Braghis and the searches of Pro-TV Chisinau could be linked to the station’s recent critical reporting,” CPJ Director Joel Simon said. “We call on Moldovan authorities to make all evidence against Braghis public and to allow him access to legal counsel.”

Braghis was arrested on Thursday evening, after meeting with Mikhail Balan, director of the local transportation company Miramond Trans, a potential Pro-TV Chisinau advertiser. Police allege that Braghis told the client he would need to pay him US$1,000 before an advertising deal could be reached, according to international press reports.

Pro-TV Chisinau defended the conduct of its employee and said it knows of no bribe solicitation.

Press freedom in Moldovan is precarious, CPJ research shows. Officials often use police to harass news outlets that criticize the government, and many journalists censor themselves to avoid persecution.