Authorities with the unrecognized separatist Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) held Vardanian incommunicado since his arrest on charges of espionage and treason. The PMR is commonly known as Transdniester.
Vardanian is a staff reporter for the Chisinau-based newspaper Puls and a freelance contributor to the Russian Internet news agency Novy Region. He also contributed reporting to Europa Libera—the Moldova and Romania service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
A group of armed agents from PMR’s Ministry of State Security (MGB) arrested Vardanian at his home in Tiraspol and placed him in an agency detention facility, according to press reports and CPJ interviews. MGB agents searched the journalist’s home, confiscating computers, audio- and video-recording equipment, reporter’s notebooks, and the family’s bank and credit cards. The MGB denied Vardanian access to a lawyer after his arrest, according to press reports.
Puls Editor-in-Chief Dmitry Kavruk told Deutsche Welle in April that the MGB in Tiraspol had been pressuring Vardanian to stop working for Chisinau media outlets. While living in Tiraspol, Vardanian had commuted daily to the Moldovan capital of Chisinau for work.
In May, PMR authorities released to regional television a video showing Vardanian pleading guilty to charges of spying for Moldovan authorities; he was also shown to say he was being treated well in custody. Immediately after the video was released, Vardanian’s wife and colleagues sounded an alarm, telling reporters that Vardanian appeared to be acting unnaturally and under duress. Authorities disclosed no evidence in support of the charges.
The Transdniester region broke away from Moldova proper in 1990, declaring independence unilaterally. The self-proclaimed PMR is not recognized by the international community.