Transnistrian court sentences journalist to 15 years in prison for “spying”

Published on 17 December 2010

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the 15-year jail sentence which a court in Tiraspol, the capital of the breakaway region of Transnistria, imposed yesterday on journalist Ernest Vardanean on charges of high treason and spying for Moldova.

The court specified that Vardanean should be subjected to a “severe regime” while serving his sentence, issued under article 272 of Transnistria’s constitution. The verdict was based on a confession which Reporters Without Borders believes was obtained under torture with the aim of silencing an outspoken reporter.

A narrow strip of territory located on Moldova’s northeastern border with Ukraine, Transnistria proclaimed its independence with Russian backing in 1991.

Arrested on 7 April by Transnistria’s MGB (Ministry for State Security), Vardanean was accused of spying for Moldovan intelligence agencies while working as the Tiraspol correspondent of the Moldovan news agency Novyi Region, for which he had written articles that were very critical of the Transnistrian leader, Igor Smirnov .

The conditions in which he was held for seven months, until his trial opened on 3 November, were condemned by the United States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. His wife voiced concern in May about his physical and mental state after he had apparently undergone many exhausting interrogation sessions lasting hours.

On 11 May, the Transnistrian authorities broadcast a video on the national TV station in which Vardanean “confessed” to having been an agent of the Moldovan intelligence services since 2001. His family said the confession was extracted under torture.

The one-sided conduct of the trial showed that the court was determined to convict and jail Vardanean. His lawyer was forbidden to travel to Tiraspol for “security reasons.” The public, the OSCE’s representatives and Vardanean’s family were all denied access to the courtroom and the court-appointed lawyer systematically refused to talk to his wife after the hearings.

The family’s lawyer said she would appeal against his conviction and would file a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights.

Reporters Without Borders urges the Moldovan and Russian governments, the European Court of Human Rights and the OSCE to press Transnistria to quash Vardanean’s conviction.