Journalist jailed on extremism charges in Moldova’s Transdniester region

New York, March 26, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detention of a journalist in the separatist Transdniester region of Moldova and calls on authorities to release him immediately. Sergei Ilchenko, a freelance contributor to local and regional media, has been held for more than a week and equipment seized from his and his son’s homes, according to news reports.

In 1990, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), commonly known as Transdniester, declared its independence from Moldova. The republic is not recognized by the United Nations or a majority of the international community, according to news reports.

“We call on authorities in the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic to immediately free Sergei Ilchenko, return his and his son’s confiscated equipment, and cease harassing him and his family,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We also urge the Moldovan government to apply focused efforts to gain Ilchenko’s swift release.”

Ilchenko has often criticized Transdniester authorities and the regional security service known as the KGB in his commentary for the independent regional news websites Dniestr and Ava. Ilchenko has also appeared on TV stations in neighboring Ukraine giving interviews about the social and economic conditions in the Transdniester region, authorities’ purported corruption, and Russia’s apparent influence on local politics, according to press reports.

On Saturday, a regional court in Transdniester ordered Ilchenko to be imprisoned for two months pending an investigation, the regional press reported. He has been charged with extremism and, if convicted, faces a prison term of up to five years, reports said.

The journalist was detained on March 18 when KGB agents came to his home and confiscated his computer and reporting equipment, according to regional and international press reports. The agents also accused Ilchenko of making public calls to extremism in connection with an article that was published on a local online forum that called on residents to pick up arms and start a revolution against the pro-Russia Transdniester authorities, reports said. The article was later deleted from the forum but was available until recently on Google cache.

The article also contained a reference to a previous KGB visit to Ilchenko’s home, which he had described in a Facebook post in February, according to the regional press. On that occasion, KGB agents came to the journalist’s house and ordered him to delete footage he had taken at a protest rally. Ilchenko refused. Dniester later published the pictures as well as his account of the KGB visit.

Roman Konoplyov, owner of Dniester, wrote he believed the KGB had created the controversial anonymous article as a pretext to arrest Ilchenko in retaliation for his reporting on the February rally as well as for his refusal to comply with agents’ demands to delete his footage.

Nikolai Ilchenko, the journalist’s son, released a statement on Monday in which he denied his father’s involvement with the article and said the journalist’s Skype account had been hacked before his arrest. Nikolai said the KGB also came to his own apartment on March 18 and confiscated computers and cameras. According to his statement, the KGB said the article posted on the online forum was published from Nikolai’s IP address. Nikolai denied any involvement with the article.