Paris, August 5, 2022 — Moldovan authorities should drop the fine imposed on Val Butnaru, reverse the ban on his work activities, and let him and his colleagues work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On July 26, the Buiucani Court in the capital city of Chisinau found Butnaru, founder of independent broadcaster Jurnal TV and host of its “Vânturile, Valurile” culture program, guilty of slander, fined him 4,500 Moldovan lei (US$233), and banned him from holding TV and radio leadership posts for six months, according to media reports.
The ruling stemmed from a July 2021 Jurnal TV investigation—based on leaked police and prosecutor files—which alleged that the former head of the Dubăsari Police Inspectorate was involved in cigarette smuggling along with two other police officers, the broadcaster’s deputy director, Cristina Pohilenco, told CPJ via email.
Pohilenco told CPJ that Jurnal TV had appealed the decision and expected a trial to be held in the fall.
“A Moldovan court’s decision to fine Jurnal TV founder Val Butnaru and bar him from working is deeply disturbing and sets a dangerous precedent for press freedom in the country,” said CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg, in New York. “Authorities should revoke the fine and ban imposed on Butnaru, and let his outlet report freely on matters of public interest.”
In December 2021, at the request of Vitalie Grabovski, the police head who was implicated in the July 2021 report, the Buiucani Police Inspectorate filed a defamation lawsuit against Jurnal TV and sought to deprive the outlet from operating for one year, Jurnal TV reported.
When CPJ contacted Grabovski via a messaging app for comment about the court decision, his wife, Fulga Grabovski, responded. She told CPJ she was replying on her husband’s behalf because he did not speak English, and referred to Jurnal TV’s investigation as an “unprecedented media lynching case,” saying Jurnal TV used “false evidence” in its reporting, and that she and her husband “are currently fighting the whole press in Moldova, which has allied against our family.”
Pohilenco told CPJ that Jurnal TV did not believe the reporting was slanderous, and denounced “serious violations” in the legal proceedings initiated by police.
“We consider this sentence as a severe limitation of the freedom of expression,” she told CPJ, saying it was “an inadmissible attack on the right of the press to communicate to the public information related to the illegal activities practiced by some public officials such as the police.”
Pohilenco told CPJ that the court’s decision against Butnaru prompted the two other officers mentioned in Jurnal TV’s investigation to file complaints as well.
In Moldova, the right of journalists to criticize government officials and people serving in public roles is protected by Article 9 of freedom of expression laws.
When CPJ emailed the Buiucani Court in Chisinau, a representative referred CPJ to the court’s website, where no additional information was available about Butnaru’s case. CPJ emailed the Buiucani Police Inspectorate for comment, but did not receive any replies.