Border guards deny Romanian journalists entry to Moldova

New York, April 8, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Moldovan authorities today to allow Romanian journalists to enter Moldova and report on anti-communist rallies that have swept Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, since Monday. Approximately 10,000 protesters took to the streets on Tuesday to protest Sunday’s parliamentary election, which was won by President Vladimir Voronin’s Communist Party. 

At least 19 Romanian journalists, working for both domestic and international media outlets, were turned back when trying to fly into Moldova or enter at the Romania-Moldova border crossing points of Galati-Giurgiulesti and Oancea-Cahul Tuesday night and throughout Wednesday, Stefan Candea, vice president of the Bucharest-based Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism, told CPJ. Moldovan border guards have given conflicting explanations for refusing the journalists entry.

“We are alarmed by this apparent discrimination against Romanian journalists,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “We call on Moldovan authorities to allow Romanian journalists to enter the country to cover this important story.”

The opposition rallies started peacefully on Monday but turned violent on Tuesday when some of the 10,000 people gathered stormed the Moldovan parliament and the president’s office, according to international new reports. The protesters called for new parliamentary elections.

Voronin accused Romania of backing the protests, according to AP, which resulted in dozens of people injured and 200 arrested. The Romanian Foreign Ministry “categorically rejected” the accusations in response. Some demonstrators wielded the Romanian flag and called for reunification of Moldova with Romania. Romania is an EU member, while Moldova has been ruled by a pro-Russia communist party government since 2001. Voronin declared the Romanian ambassador to Moldova, Filip Teodescu, a persona non grata, and said he would introduce visas for Romanians, AP reported, citing Moldovan news agencies.

“We tried to cross four different times but each time we were rejected for different stated reasons,” Robert Ghement, a Bucharest-based photographer with the Frankfurt-headquartered European Pressphoto Agency who tried to enter Moldova by car late Tuesday and earlier today, told CPJ. Ghement said he was traveling with eight other Romanian journalists working for both local and international outlets.

Ghement, who spoke to CPJ today while on his way back to Bucharest, said he travels to Moldova multiple times every year on assignments ranging from sports to politics, and had never had problems entering the country until now. Romanian citizens–who are also part of the European Union–have not needed visas to travel to Moldova. “At one checkpoint we were asked to present accreditation from the Moldovan Foreign Ministry; at another checkpoint we were asked if we had an invitation from a Moldovan citizen,” Ghement told CPJ. “I had never had to present any extra papers before,” he said. Other reporters said border guards had turned them down because border police computers were malfunctioning or because they lacked approved medical insurance.

Candea of the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism told CPJ that the list of reporters refused entry to Moldova includes correspondents for the Romanian newspapers Evenimentul Zilei, Jurnalul National, and Ziua; the Romanian television station Realitatea TV; the Romanian public radio station Radio Romania Actualitati; the Romanian news agencies Mediafax, Intact Images, and NewsIn; and the international news agencies The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, and the European Pressphoto Agency. Candea said that his center confirmed that journalists with Belarusian and Russian media outlets were allowed into Moldova today.

Voronin’s Communist Party–in power since 2001–won Sunday’s parliamentary elections with 49.9 per cent of the vote, according to official data. International observers said the vote was fair overall, but opposition parties claimed the communists controlled the vote and allowed repeat voting.

The protests underlined a generational and regional gap in Moldova: Many young people and those living in Chisinau have pro-Western attitudes and want to be integrated into the EU and NATO, while many older citizens and provincial voters support the pro-Russia Communist Party.