Novy Region
Novy Region

Journalist held incommunicado in Moldova’s Transdniester

New York, April 16, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists called on authorities in the unrecognized Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) to immediately release journalist Ernest Vardanian, at left, who has been jailed in the regional capital of Tiraspol for treason since April 7. 

Vardanian is being held in an isolation unit and without officially stated charges, according to news reports. On April 9, at a closed-door hearing at the Tiraspol City Court, Vardanian’s pre-trial detention was reportedly extended for two months. The PMR is also known as Transdniester.

“We are outraged by the imprisonment of Ernest Vardanian and we urge Transdniester security authorities to free him at once,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on the Moldovan government to focus all efforts on gaining Vardanian’s swift and unconditional release.”

On April 7, a group of armed agents from PMR’s Ministry of State Security (MGB) arrested Vardanian at his home in Tiraspol, according to local news reports. Irina Vardanian, who spoke to the press after her husband’s arrest, said the agents told her he was accused of committing treason against the PMR for Moldova. According to Article 271 of the internal penal code of the unrecognized republic, Vardanian faces from 12 to 20 years if convicted.

Vardanian, 30, works as a staff reporter and political analyst for the Chisinau-based newspaper Puls, freelances for the Russian Internet news agency Novy Region, and occasionally contributes for Europa Libera—the Moldova and Romania service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Vasily Botnaru, Europa Libera’s chief editor told CPJ that Vardanian is known for his independent reporting and analysis on political and social issues. According to his Puls editors, Vardanian lives in the Transdniester regional capital of Tiraspol and commutes daily to the Moldovan capital of Chisinau for work.

Aleksandr Shchetinin, Novy Region’s general director, said Vardanian had recently focused on international politics rather than Moldovan and Transdniestrian issues. Shchetinin, who spoke with Irina Vardanian after her husband’s arrest, told CPJ that MGB agents searched the journalist’s home, confiscating computers, audio- and video- reporting equipment, reporter’s notebooks, and the family’s bank and credit cards.

Several local sources told CPJ that after she gave initial interviews to the press, Irina Vardanian was warned to not talk to the media. CPJ’s was unable to get through to her by phone. The sources also said journalists in Transdniester have been told by Tiraspol officials not to give any information on the case to outsiders. The PMR-appointed lawyer tasked with defending Vardanian has not been identified and has not given a public statement.

Puls’s Editor-in-Chief Dmitry Kavruk told Deutsche Welle that since the fall of 2009, the MGB in Tiraspol had been pressuring Vardanian to stop working for Chisinau media. Tiraspol officials have been silent since Vardanian’s arrest on April 7. Repeated attempts by various media outlets, including Europa Libera and Novy Region, to contact MGB for information, have been rebuffed.

The Transdniester region broke away from Moldova proper, declaring independence unilaterally, in 1990. The self-proclaimed PMR is not recognized by the international community.