Call for mediator after Transnistrian authorities broadcast journalist's "confession"

Reporters Without Borders is very concerned to learn that the authorities of the breakaway region of Transnistria broadcast a video on the “national” TV station yesterday in which Ernest Vardanean, a journalist held on charges of spying and high treason since 7 April, confessed to being an agent of the Moldovan intelligence services since 2001. Backed by Russia, Transnistria has declared itself to be independent of Moldova since 1991.

“There are two possible explanations for this video and we are shocked and disturbed by both,” Reporters Without Borders said. “One is that Vardanean’s confession was obtained under duress, a disgraceful procedure inherited from the not-so-distant Soviet past. If this is the case, then the Transnistrian authorities must be called to account and Vardanean is the victim of a dangerous game of influence in an unstable region in which both Russia and Europe are trying to advance their pawns.”’

The press freedom organisation added: “The other possibility is that Vardanean really has been working for the Moldovan intelligence services. And if this is the case, then the climate for journalists in Transnistria, already suffering from a marked polarisation, will inevitably get much worse.”

Reporters Without Borders thinks the situation has become much more serious with the broadcasting of Vardanean’s confession and the only way to clarify matters and protect Vardanean’s rights will be the appointment of an outside mediator regarded as neutral by both the Moldovan and Transnistrian authorities.

In the video broadcast yesterday, which happened to be Vardanean’s birthday, he made a full confession and said he was “the victim of circumstances.” His wife Irina, his colleagues at the Russian news agency Novyi Region, and other friends and relatives all rejected any possibility of the confession being genuine.

Aged 33 and the father of one child, Vardanean was arrested in the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol on the evening of 7 April by members of Transnistria’s Ministry of State Security (MGB) and was charged with high treason under article 272 of the breakaway region’s constitution.

Several international organisations and foreign representatives, including the US ambassador in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, have expressed their concern about Vardanean’s arrest and have called for his release.