New York, May 6, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of independent journalist Ernest Vardanian, at left, who was unconditionally pardoned by the president of the unrecognized separatist Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR).
Vardanian had served more than a year of jail time since the PMR arrested him on treason charges in April 2010; he was accused of allegedly spying for Moldova proper. Vardanian denied the charges. He was convicted in December in a closed trial and was serving a 15-year-long term until his pardon on Thursday. The PMR, commonly known as Transdniester, broke away from Moldova proper in 1990.
Speaking from his home in Tiraspol, Vardanian told CPJ prison guards told him Thursday to pack his belongings and go home. In December, he told CPJ, he requested a pardon from the PMR President Igor Smirnov. His request was denied in February. The prison administration did not state any reasons for the sudden pardon.
Prior to his arrest, Vardanian worked as a staff reporter and political analyst for the Chisinau-based newspaper Puls, freelanced for the Russian Internet news agency Novy Region, and contributed to Europa Libera–the Moldova and Romania service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“We welcome the release of Ernest Vardanian, but he should not have spent a single day in prison because of his work,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We hope we’ve seen the last journalist jailed in PMR on trumped-up charges.”
Vardanian thanked CPJ and other press freedom and human rights groups who had pushed for his release. “Your advocacy offered me a moral support in prison,” Vardanian told CPJ.” It helped me realize that I was not forgotten and left behind.”
CPJ had repeatedly protested Vardanian’s imprisonment and urged regional authorities to drop the fabricated charges against him and release him.