Report: The authorities of Moldova roll back the democratisation process and fail to fulfill their obligations to the EU

  • 17.05.2018
  • Author: Andriy Osavoliyk, Igor Savchenko

1. Introduction

The tendency to violate democratic standards and the rule of law in Moldova continues. In the interests of pro-government forces, new electoral law was adopted. The law enforcement and judicial systems are used to prosecute oppositionists and civil society activists who oppose the usurpation of power in the country. Representatives of the civil society and opposition become victims of denigrating campaigns in the Moldovan mass media. The denigrating information campaign affected also the Open Dialog Foundation after it had begun to inform the international community about human rights violations and politically motivated prosecutions in Moldova. Also, Amnesty International has also become a target of attacks on the part of the authorities.

The authorities initiated toughening of control over the activity of non-governmental organisations; however, due to a sharp negative reaction of the international community and protests of the Moldovan civil society, they were forced to withdraw legislative initiatives.

According to the conclusions of Transparency International, in Moldova, a narrow oligarchic group continues the process of ‘capturing’ the state with the use of public institutions and resources in their own mercenary interests. Particularly successful in this field is the most influential Moldovan oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc.

In recent years, Plahotniuc, who does not occupy a high public office, managed to take control of the parliament, the executive branch of power, as well as the law enforcement, anti-corruption, and, to a large extent, the judiciary bodies. As of 2015, Plahotniuc owned 60-70% of the TV market in Moldova. Plahotniuc's assets are estimated at 2-2.5 billion dollars, which is about 30% of the country's GDP.

Recent events testify to the formation in Moldova of an informal ruling coalition of the forces of President Igor Dodon and oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. Pro-Russian Dodon has a high level of support from the society (approx. 50%); however, he does not have real power in the state. Vladimir Plahotniuc, whose political force declares its pro-European orientation, on the contrary, is the most influential figure in Moldova, but, at the same time, extremely unpopular.

Plahotniuc plays on the contradictions between the EU and Russia, using the rhetoric that he is the ‘only pro-European alternative’. At the same time, the company that belongs to him in 85%, is the station retransmitting one of the main mouthpieces of Russian propaganda - Channel One, in Moldova. In February 2017, Vasiliy Botnari was appointed the head of the ‘Moldovagaz’ company; the Moldovan media labelled Botnari ‘a person close to Plahotniuc’. The largest shareholder of ‘Moldovagaz’ is the Russian ‘Gazprom’ (50% of shares + 13.4% of shares have been transferred to its confidential management by the Transnistrian authorities).

The current Moldovan authorities are interested in preserving the existing corruption system, which allows them to enrich themselves at the expense of the State and citizens. Due to the puppet law enforcement agencies, they can feel safe and eliminate their competitors and critics.

Reforms, in which international partners had placed their hopes (in particular, in the justice system), transpired to be merely an imitation of activity and did not change the rules of the game in the state.

In order to stabilise the economic situation in the country, the Moldovan authorities need assistance from the EU. In this report, the Open Dialog Foundation cites facts which confirm Moldova’s failure to fulfill its commitments, assumed in connection with the EU’s decision to provide macro-financial assistance and conclude the Association Agreement with the EU. The report considers the following problems: changing of the electoral system; politically motivated criminal prosecutions; torture in the detention facilities; cases of exerting pressure on journalists and representatives of the civil society; the use of the controlled mass media to ‘settle the score’ with government critics.

2. The Democratic Party’s attempt to maintain power by changing the election system

In the previous parliamentary elections,which were carried out in 2014, the Democratic Party of Moldova, headed by Vladimir Plahotniuc, got less than 16% of the vote. However, the alliance with the Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal-Reform Party allowed the Plahotniuc party to form a ruling coalition in the parliament. During its governance, the Democratic Party's ranking dropped to a critical level. According to recent sociological research (March 2018), in the case of parliamentary elections, this party would gain approx. 8% of the votes cast (with the electoral threshold of 6%).

In the autumn of 2018, the next parliamentary elections should take place in Moldova. In March 2017, representatives of the Democratic Party initiated changes to the electoral law, proposing to move from elections system based on the party lists to the majority election system. This will increase the chances of pro-government forces to win in the upcoming elections.

This initiative caused a wave of outrage among the Moldovan community. On 5 May 2017, the Moldovan parliament approved, in the first reading, the draft law of the formally oppositional Socialist Party, whose member, until recently, was President Igor Dodon. The party proposed an alternative to the reform of the electoral system, namely, the transition to a mixed electoral system (half of the members of the parliament to be elected by the party lists, while the other half - in single-member majority constituencies).

According to the findings of Transparency International experts, the 70% of the draft law proposed by the Socialist Party is similar in structure and content to the draft law of the Democratic Party. The only important difference is the proposal to introduce the mixed system, rather than the majority system. The draft law of the Socialist Party was put to the vote of the parliament without preliminary examination by the government and parliamentary commissions, and without carrying out anti-corruption expertise.

On 20 July 2017, the Moldovan parliament approved by ¾ of the votes cast on a change to the mixed electoral system by supporting the entire draft law of the Socialist Party. The vote may indicate the existence in the parliament, of a situational alliance of political forces of Vladimir Plahotniuc and Igor Dodon.

The new legislation on the elections was adopted despite the negative opinion of the Venice Commission (published on 19 June 2017), which noted the lack of political consensus in Moldova as to which electoral system is needed in the country. In particular, the national debate was not properly conducted. The conclusions of the Venice Commission emphasise that, in modern Moldova, there is a risk that the MPs, elected on the basis of the majority electoral system, will be dependent or under the influence of big business. In addition, experts drew attention to the fact that, under the new law, the Central Election Commission (CEC) is responsible for forming the boundaries of single-member constituencies. However, the criteria for the formation of constituencies are not clearly defined, which creates the risks of the exertion of political influence on the CEC.

In majority constituencies, pro-government candidates will be able to misuse administrative resources. And, on the other hand, the chances of the opposition forces to get a significant number of parliamentary seats are significantly reduced.

In the period between April-May 2017, a large-scale sociological survey was carried out; it was commissioned by the Democratic Party of Moldova in order to determine the electoral sentiment in Moldova. Over 12,000 respondents were interviewed (the total population of Moldova is approx. 3.5 million people). A study with such a huge sample of respondents may indicate a desire to know the electoral preferences of citizens in order to form the boundaries of future majority constituencies, taking into account the information received. On 7 November 2017, the Moldovan government approved the borders of single-member constituencies. Representatives of civil society (12 NGOs) issued a public statement in which they announced ‘limited transparency in the process of adopting a draft decision regarding the formation of single-member constituencies’. According to the statement of the NGO representatives, there were no public consultations in the decision-making process.

Possibilities to influence the results of elections with the help of actions in majority constituencies

The situation, identical to that in Moldova, took place in Ukraine in the run-up to the 2012 parliamentary elections. Sociological surveys recorded a decline in the rankings of the pro-government ‘Party of Regions’. On the initiative of the authorities, a year before the parliamentary elections in the country, the election law was amended. Ukraine moved from elections based on the party lists to the mixed system. As a result, the Party of Regions won by 4% less of the votes cast than in the previous parliamentary election of 2007 (30% vs. 34% in 2007), but it managed to increase its representation in parliament by almost 6%. It was possible for the Party of Regions to achieve a positive result for themselves due to the fact that the party won in more than half of single-member constituencies. On the other side, the opposition parties that won almost 50% of the votes cast in the election, lost the election in majority constituencies and received only 40% of the seats in the parliament, which, consequently, prevented them from forming a ruling coalition.

The Democratic Party's hope put in the elections in the majority constituencies can be explained by the results of the previous local elections that took place in Moldova in 2015. According to the results of the vote, representatives of the Democratic Party received 23% of the mandates in municipal and district councils, 27% of the mandates in the city and village councils, and 32% of the mandates in the mayoral elections. The Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova achieved similar results. However, after its leader, Vladimir Filat had been arrested on corruption charges, and several MPs announced their withdrawal from the party, the process of transferring party members to other political forces (including the Democratic Party) has begun.

Local elections in 2015 were marked by statements about pressure exerted on representatives of local authorities by the Democratic Party with proposals for ‘cooperation’. The case of the Mayor of Taraclia Sergey Filipov was widely publicised. In 2014, a criminal case was initiated against him on charges of unauthorised cutting of trees in the Taraclia municipal park. In 2016, the court found Filipov guilty and imposed a fine of 164,000 lei (approx. 8,000 euros) on him.

The indignation over the court sentence regarding Filipov was expressed by the US ambassador to the Republic of Moldova, James Petit, the Bulgarian Ambassador Petr Vylov and the Head of the European Union mission, Pirkka Tapiola. Filipov claims that he is not guilty. According to him, he was offered to join the Democratic Party and then the issue of the criminal case would be resolved by ‘one phone call’. According to Filipov, on the eve of the local elections in 2015, he was contacted by a representative of the Democratic Party and offered ‘mutually beneficial cooperation’. Similar proposals were also made to other candidates for mayors who had chances to win elections, as stated by Filipov. On 14 November 2017, the Supreme Chamber of Justice of Moldova issued a final decision on the case of Filipov, fully acquitting him.

In the run-up to the parliamentary elections in 2018, there are also statements about pressure exerted on the representatives of local authorities by the Democratic Party. In the middle of March 2017, the Mayor of the city of Basarabeasca Valentin Cimpoeș, who is a member of Renato Usatii’s ‘Our Party’, was detained. Cimpoeș was accused of failing to provide protection to a 13-year-old girl, who was forced by her father to engage in prostitution. Cimpoeș was arrested for 30 days. The Congress of Local Authorities of Moldova stood in support of the mayor of Basarabeasca. They stated that the motives for detaining Cimpoeș are based on the controversial interpretation of the law ‘On Special Protection of Children’, and the measure of restraint in the form of arrest was unreasonably strict. In April 2017, the court put Cimpoeș under house arrest, and in May, the measure of restraint was changed to judicial control. According to the Moldovan media, the persecution of Cimpoeș was the result of his refusal to cooperate with the Democratic Party.

The current Moldovan authorities replaced the election law just one year before the elections, which may indicate that they are making attempts to change the system for their own benefit.

High Representative of the EU Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn stressed that the change in the electoral law in Moldova ‘directly contradicts’ the recommendations of the Venice Commission. The US Embassy in Moldova stated its disappointment in connection with the fact that Moldova ignores the recommendations of the Venice Commission and the OSCE by Moldova. The PACE stated that the current situation cannot facilitate the holding of fair elections in the country. The European People's Party labelled the decision on changing the electoral system in Moldova ‘the preference for authoritarism over democracy’.

The European People's Party and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe appealed to European institutions with a call to respond to the decline in the level of the rule of law and democratic standards in Moldova, as well as to suspend any financial assistance for Moldova, and revise the Association Agreement.

3. Narrowing the space for free media, NGOs and civil activists

According to the ranking of the World Press Freedom Index, produced by the organisation ‘Reporters Without Borders’, in 2017, Moldova ranks 80th among 180 countries and, compared to 2016, it went down four points. The organisation noted that the editorial policy of the main Moldovan media is closely related to the political and business interests of their owners. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, in 2016, Moldova ranked 76th globally in terms of democracy, which is six points lower than in 2015. The downgrade was mainly due to the decline in the civil liberties index in the country (from 8.5 to 7.35 points on the 10-point scale).

Moldova continues to exert pressure on journalists and representatives of the civil society.

On 10 July 2017, a joint meeting of the leadership of the Moldovan prosecutor's office with representatives of Amnesty International was held. At the meeting, Deputy General Prosecutor Igor Popa expressed his dissatisfaction with the findings of the organisation which recorded a number of violations at the court trial of Petrenko. In response, Amnesty International issued a statement, accusing the General Prosecutor of an attempt to intimidate and discredit the organisation. “We consider unacceptable the manner the Prosecutor General’s Office organised an event by planning “a public execution”, and namely presenting an agenda about strengthening the cooperation between the General Prosecutor’s Office and Amnesty International Moldova. (…) It is not in the competence of the General Prosecutor’s Office to initiate discussions and to question AI annual reports, press-releases or other documents, all related on human rights and freedoms in the Republic of Moldova”, - the organisation stated.

On 29 September 2017, it became known that journalist Ghenadie Brega applied for political asylum in Iceland. Brega stated that he had faced politically motivated criminal prosecution in connection with his journalistic activity. The Moldovan police put Brega on the wanted list for evading prosecution, although, according to his counsel, law enforcement agencies were aware of his whereabouts. Brega was accused of hooliganism: in January 2017, he hit the official of the Central District of Chisinau, Vasile Uratu. Brega claims that he had to defend himself, as he was first attacked by the official when he was striving to document the violation of the law on the part of the latter. According to the journalist, he was put on the international wanted list, although before that, he hadn’t been informed about the criminal charges.

As a civil activist, Brega participated in numerous civil society actions in support of the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. In April 2009, the Moldovan prosecutor's office initiated a criminal case on mass riots in connection with the protest action, where Brega was one of the organisers. Searches were carried out in his house. In 2010 and 2012, Brega won two cases against Moldova in the ECHR on statements of the use of force against him in the police station and illegal detention.

On 18 October 2017, the Centre for Independent Journalism published an official appeal on behalf of 15 NGOs to the embassies of foreign countries in Moldova. The appeal notes an increase in incidents of obstruction of journalistic activities and exerting pressure on journalists in Moldova. Examples of the ill-treatment included: detention by the police of the film crew of Gagauz.info in March 2017; surveillance of the editor of the Newsmaker.md portal, Vladimir Solovyov; selective restriction of access to places of public interest for the film crews of the TV channel ‘TV8’ and photojournalist Constantin Grigoriţă. In October 2017, security guards of the Global Business Center, owned by Vladimir Plahotniuc, threatened journalists of the newspaper ‘Ziarul de Garda’ and did not allow them to take video footage in the business centre.

On 2 November 2017, the information agency OMEGA reported that the number of lawsuits against the agency for protection of honour and business reputation has raised. As reported in the statement, the claims were filed by public persons following the release of materials, critical of them. One of the claims was granted by the court in the absence of representatives of the agency. “The orchestrated harassment of the OMEGA agency is a response of the state to a certain critical position of the agency regarding the activities of the authorities”, the statement reads.

The head and the editor of the news agency OMEGA, Alexander Petkov has repeatedly become a suspect in suspicious administrative cases. In December 2014, an administrative case was initiated against him on charges of insulting a law enforcement officer. Before that, he had received threats about a criminal case which was being prepared against him. According to Counsel Anna Ursachi, in September 2016, the authorities intended to bring Alexander Petkov to criminal liability in connection with anti-government protests of 27 August 2016.

Due to the protests of the Moldovan civil society and the decisive position of the international community, it was possible to force the Moldovan authorities to abandon the initiative to ban external financing for non-profit organisations

Following the criticism on the part of representatives of the Moldovan civil society regarding the changes in the electoral law, the authorities of the country put forward an initiative to limit the financing of NGOs from abroad. On 6 July 2017 Minister of Justice Vladimir Chebotar enunciated that the restrictions would ‘prevent the influence of external forces’ on the policy of Moldova.

In early July 2017, the Ministry of Justice proposed several amendments to the draft law on non-profit organisations. The changes concerned the organisations which take part in political and lawmaking processes. According to the proposed amendments, such organisations would not be able to receive ‘financing or material values ​​from outside the Republic of Moldova’. It was also suggested that to oblige non-profit organisations which receive funding from foreign sources, to file reports not only to the tax service, but also to the Ministry of Justice and Central Election Commission.

Thus, not only did the proposed amendments limit the possibility of financing NGOs from outside Moldova, but they also toughened control over them by the state structures. Such practices exist solely in authoritarian states (Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan). A very vague treatment of ‘political activity’ in the draft law created a threat of its selective use in order to prosecute NGOs which are inconvenient to the authorities.

More than 70 Moldovan NGOs opposed the initiative of the Ministry of Justice. Representatives of the civil society stated that at least 90% of NGOs receive foreign funding, and, should the amendments be introduced, they simply will not be able to work.

On 11 September 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zayed Ra'ad al-Hussein, expressed his concern over the attempts of the Moldovan authorities to restrict the activities of NGOs. The Commissioner stressed that legislative changes should lead to the expansion of opportunities for a free and independent civil society. Freedom House stated that, should the amendments proposed by the Ministry of Justice be adopted, all the achievements on the path of democratisation of the country over the past decade will be obliterated”. Amnesty International stressed that the right to freedom of association in Moldova is at serious risk, and urged the authorities to immediately withdraw the amendments to the law.

The reaction of Moldovan and international community forced the Moldovan authorities to abandon the initiative to ban external financing for public organisations. On 28 April 2018, the Cabinet of Ministers filed a new draft law on non-profit organisations. Scandalous provisions were removed from the document. On 4 May 2018, the Moldovan parliament adopted the draft law in the first reading.

4. The mass media, controlled by oligarch Plahotniuc, are carrying out denigrating information attacks against the Open Dialog Foundation

The Open Dialog Foundation has repeatedly been exposed to denigrating propaganda attacks and threats in connection with the activities to protect democracy and human rights in Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Moldova.

The slandering campaign in Moldova was the continuation of similar campaigns in Kazakhstan and Poland

The authorities of Kazakhstan have been trying to discredit our organisation for many years. In particular, the embassies of Kazakhstan in the EU have been sending out propaganda materials about the Foundation to their European counterparts. As regards information attacks in Poland, they began immediately after the Foundation, along with other Polish NGOs, supported protests in defence of the independence of the judiciary in Poland in July 2017.

Recently, the Open Dialog Foundation has faced an information attack from the Moldovan media controlled by influential oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. They combined different typical ‘accusations’ used by the Polish and Kazakhstani authorities in attacks against the Foundation.

The new slandering campaign was a response to the activities of the Foundation, carried out in order to defend victims of politically motivated prosecution in Moldova. In May 2017, the Foundation helped opposition politicians Maya Sandu (Action and Solidarity Party) and Andrey Nestase (the ‘Dignity and Truth’ Platform) to organise meetings in the European Parliament. Also, in the European Parliament, the Foundation also held events, devoted to selective justice and politically motivated prosecution in Moldova.

Along with representatives of the Moldovan civil society, the Foundation called on the EU to suspend macro-financial assistance to Moldova due to the authorities' failure to fulfill their obligations to introduce reforms and respect human rights. After members of the European Parliament suspended the allocation of assistance to Moldova in the amount of 100 million euros, Speaker of the Moldovan Parliament Andrian Candu stated that the decision was issued on the basis of ‘unreliable information from unreliable sources’.

The mass media, controlled by Plahotniuc, have spread fake news, citing non-existent information from the Financial Times

After a while, a campaign was launched in Moldova to discredit the Open Dialog Foundation. The media, which belong to the oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc (Prime, Canal 2, Canal 3, and Publika [1], [2]), as well as other media loyal to the authorities - Deschide, Timpul, Ava, carried out the denigrating information attack. The aforementioned distributed similar news on the same days, and in some cases - published identical texts. At the same time, in order to give greater significance to the disseminated false information, these media ‘referred to’ the Financial Times, although the Financial Times has never published such information.

The aforementioned Moldovan media reported that ‘according to the Financial Times investigation’, Moldovan opposition politicians Maya Sandu and Andrey Nastase ‘went to meetings in the European Parliament and the Council of Europe for the money of the Open Dialog Foundation’, which, in turn, ‘is financed by Mukhtar Ablyazov’ (Kazakhstani opposition politician). The media also pointed out that ‘as the Financial Times found out’, ‘Mukhtar Ablyazov has ties to Renato Usatii’ (the leader of the pro-Russian ‘Our Party’, which faced criminal charges in Moldova) and ‘to Vyacheslav Platon’ (a businessman serving a prison sentence in Moldova).

This information was published simultaneously by the following mass media: on 3 October 2017 – Canal 2, Canal 3, Prime; on 4 October 2017 – Publika, Timpul; on 18 October 2017 – Canal 2; on 25 October 2017 – Prime, Canal 2, Canal 3, Publika.

The Financial Times article, published on 28 September 2017, reads, in particular, how the Kazakhstani authoritarian regime has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to pay lobbyists to fight its political opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov. It should be emphasised that in the analysis, the Financial Times doesn’t say a word about Moldova, Moldovan politicians or the Open Dialog Foundation. The Moldovan media could not have failed to notice this, because even Publika posted the Financial Times analysis on its website. Still, this did not stop the Moldovan media from creating fake news and referring to the ‘Financial Times’ information, which, in fact, does not exist.

The Open Dialog Foundation provides a broad expertise on the protection of the rights of political prisoners and political refugees. The case of Mukhtar Ablyazov, Kazakhstan's opposition politician and former head of the BTA Bank, is one of many cases on which the Foundation has been working for several years. The Foundation does not conceal the fact of communication with Mukhtar Ablyazov, as well as with other persons in whose defence it has stood. The information about this is published on the organisation's website and on social networks. In addition, we welcome the fact that Ablyazov is participating in campaigns to release Kazakhstani political prisoners. The French State Council refused to extradite Ablyazov and recognised his case as politically motivated. INTERPOL removed Ablyazov’s name from the wanted list in connection with the political context of the criminal charges.

It is not for the first time that the Foundation has been accused of ‘receiving the financing’ from Mukhtar Ablyazov. In particular, this was claimed by the Polish magazine ‘Wprost’, and the Foundation obtained a refutation of this untrue information through court action. The Open Dialog Foundation is financed by donations and grants from individuals and companies, both Polish and foreign.

Accusations of ‘working for the Russian special services’

At the end of December 2017, some Moldovan media accused the Foundation of ‘participating in the hybrid war between Russia and the West’, ‘working for the Russian special services’, ‘cooperating with companies of the Russian military industry’. Also, the publications contained information that Petro Kozlovski, the brother of the President of the Open Dialog Foundation, Lyudmyla Kozlovska, is the owner of the ‘Mayak’ plant in Sevastopol. On 22 December 2017, this information was aired by Publika, Prime, Ava, while on 23 December 2017 – by Deschide.

Earlier, the Foundation had repeatedly denied these accusations:

  • Petro Kozlovski sold the ‘Mayak’ plant in Crimea back in 2003. Due to the occupation of the peninsula in 2014, he emigrated to the United States, and his enterprises in Crimea were seized by the occupation authorities. Petro Kozlovski himself has nothing to do with the Foundation's activities.
  • The propaganda publications contain accusations of the Foundation’s cooperation with Russia, although our organisation has severely criticised the actions of the Russian authoritarian regime for several years. In 2015, the Foundation became the initiator of the list of personal sanctions (in the case of Nadiya Savchenko) against the highest officials of Russia (the number one on the list is Vladimir Putin). In April 2015, the Ukrainian parliament adopted an appropriate resolution. The list of sanctions was supported by 57 members of the European Parliament. In addition, the Foundation took an active part in blocking the voting rights of the Russian delegation to PACE. Within the framework of the ‘LetMyPeopleGo’ campaign, the Foundation is carrying out the defence of Ukrainian political prisoners in the Russian Federation.

Waves of information attacks by certain Moldovan mass media have nothing to do with journalism. The aforementioned facts confirm that the media did not just create fake news, but also tried to ‘confirm’ these fake news, referring to the non-existent information in the Western media. Such rude propaganda is an example of how the media in Moldova are being used to fight political opponents. Such ‘attention’ towards our organisation is a confirmation of the effectiveness of efforts taken by us to fulfill the Foundation's statutory goals.

It should be noted that the EU embassy in Moldova also suffered from the propaganda of the media controlled by Vladimir Plahotniuc. On 4 April 2018, the EU embassy stated that Publika, using defamatory language, published false information about the ‘inefficiency of EU projects’, while confusing the EU with the Council of Europe.

5. Politically motivated criminal prosecution in Moldova

On 11 September 2017, during the opening of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner Zeyd Ra'ad al-Hussein expressed his concern over reports of harassment and persecution of counsels who defend representatives of the opposition, as well as human rights defenders and journalists in Moldova.

During the meeting of the Parliamentary Committee for the EU-Moldova Association in May 2017, the European Parliament members asked the Minister of Justice Vladimir Cebotar about the politically motivated prosecution of the opposition and civil society representatives in Moldova. In response, the Minister of Justice left the meeting demonstratively.

Criminal prosecution based on dubious criminal charges is a popular method of combating political opponents and critics in Moldova. In its previous report, the Open Dialog Foundation cited examples of criminal cases, which are accompanied by procedural violations and bear signs of political motivation:

  • The prosecution of opposition activists who are opponents of Vladimir Plahotniuc (Ana Ursachi, Alexandru Machedon, Serghei Cebotari).
  • The prosecution of participants in anti-government protests (for example, Grigore Petrenco, Aureliu Pisică, Ruslan Verbitchi, Liviu Vovc, Radu Cibotari, Alexandru Panuţa, Ion Matasevici, Veleriu Casuand others).
  • The prosecution of counsels in connection with their professional activities (for example, Ana Ursachi,Eduard Rudenco, Veaceslav Turcan, Maxim Belinschi).
  • Criminal cases against judges who have issued decisions, inconvenient to the current authorities (for example, Domnica Manole, Dorin Munteanu,Marina Anton).

Below is an update on several of the aforementioned cases, and three cases – of Alexei Alexeev, Alexander Raichuk and Felix Grincu are presented.

Alexei Alexeev – the driver of the car which delivered sound amplifying equipment for the protest action of 17 September 2017, organised by the parties the Platform ‘Dignity and Truth’ (headed by Andrei Năstase) and ‘Action and Solidarity’ (headed by Maya Sandu). On that day, approx. 4,000 people gathered near the Parliament Building, demanding to cancel amendments to the legislation on elections, and to impose sanctions against Plahotniuc and his entourage.

Alexey Alexeev was accused of ‘using threats or violence against a public official’ (Article 349 of the Criminal Code). According to the investigative bodies, he drove into the police cordon and injured several policemen. However, video records contradict this accusation. The video demonstrates the protesters making way for the car to pass. The policemen were on the way of the car and demanded that it stop. The car approached the policemen and stopped. After this, people began to crowd in around the car, and protesters and policemen began to push one another. According to the representative of Transparency International Moldova Janina Spinea, the police sprayed tear gas, as a result of which two women were injured.

Counsel Yulian Rusakovski asserts that the case of Alexeev involves five injured policemen; "four of them have no bruises, nothing, and the fifth one sustained an injury which does not pose a danger to his life".

Several Moldovan NGOs (including the Centre for Legal Resources of Moldova, the Institute for Public Policy, Promo-LEX, Transparency International Moldova, etc.), issued statements in defence of Alekseyev and enunciated that the criminal charges, brought against him were ‘unreasonable and designed to intimidate citizens’.

On 20 September 2017, Alekseev was arrested for 30 days. Still, on 26 September 2017, the measure of restraint was changed to house arrest. He faces from four to eight years of imprisonment.

In a written declaration, 31 PACE members from 18 countries labelled Alekseev's case ‘one of the examples of oppression of civil activists in Moldova’. Also, members of the European Parliament, Igor Šoltes and Helmut Scholz spoke in defence of Alekseev.

Alexander Raichuk - a civil activist from the city of Bălți. On 9 March 2017, three criminal cases were simultaneously initiated against him on charges of hooliganism (Article 287 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Moldova). According to the Prosecutor's Office, in February 2017, Raichuk commited the following acts: he took a video footage of a school headmaster who was allegedly involved in illegal exactions for school textbooks; he tried to enter the courtroom for a hearing in public court; he filmed a court hearing on a video camera and addressed a judge from the court of Bălți with ‘provocative’ questions. Previously, in October 2016, a criminal case was initiated against Raichuk for video recording in the cadastral department of the city of Bălți. In connection with the criminal prosecution, Alexander Raichuk spent three months in custody, he is facing imprisonment.

Grigore Petrenco – a leader of the left-wing party ‘The Red Bloc’. He and six other protesters were accused of ‘orchestrating and participating in mass riots’ (Article 285 of the Criminal Code). On 6 September 2015, in Chisinau, they participated in protest actions with thousands of other protesters, demanding the resignation of senior officials, and punishment for the embezzlement of funds from the country's banking system.

In the report of the US State Department for the year 2016, the case of the ‘Petrenco group’ is mentioned in the section ‘Political Prisoners and Detainees’. On 25 January 2017, in a written declaration, 23 members of the PACE labelled Petrenco ‘a victim of a slanderous campaign by the Moldovan authorities’. In June 2017, during the speech of Prime Minister Pavel Filip at the PACE summer session, he was asked about the presence of political prisoners in the country, implying the case of Petrenco. Filip replied that in Moldova, ‘they do not use such concepts as ‘a political prisoner’.

On 28 June 2017, the court sentenced Petrenko to a suspended sentence of 4.5 years’ imprisonment. Other protesters, namely: Mihail Amerberg, Pavel Grigorciuc, Alexandr Roşco, Vladimir Jurat, Oleg Buznea and Andrei Druz were sentenced to conditional sentences of 3 to 4.5 years in prison.

In August 2017, Petrenko left Moldova. Shortly after that, he informed reporters that on 18 October, 2017, Germany granted him political asylum.

Ana Ursachi – a Moldovan counsel and a civil society activist. She participates in high-profile cases, in particular, she defends the interests of Vladimir Plahotniuc’s opponents. In September and October 2016, the media owned by Plahotniuc (for example, Canal3, Publica TV, and Prime) launched a campaign to discredit Ursachi. In their stories, they labelled Ursachi ‘the devil's advocate’ and alleged that she had been ‘involved in the murder committed 20 years before’. In October 2016, General Prosecutor Eduard Harunzhen resumed the criminal case in order to ‘establish the extent to which Ms Ursachi was involved in the crime’.

In the case of Ursachi, the 15-year statute of limitations expired in 2012. In addition, as noted by Ursachi, as well as her counsels Anatoliy Istrate, Angela Istrate and Yulian Rusanovsky, 20 years ago, law enforcement agencies had already carried out an investigation against her, but the case was closed. Therefore, the counsel points out a violation of the principle of non bis in idem (no one can be tried or punished twice for the same act).

Ms Ursachi requested that the court declare illegal, the decision to resume the criminal case on the murder. In December 2016, Judge Dorin Munteanu issued a decision on the impossibility of issuing an arrest warrant for Anna Ursachi before the consideration of her complaint about the illegality of the resumption of the criminal case. On 31 January 2016, General Prosecutor Eduard Kharunzhen brought Judge Dorin Munteanu to criminal liability. The Supreme Council of the Magistracy allowed the prosecutor's office to initiate criminal proceedings. Munteanu was accused of ‘issuing an unlawful decision’ in one of the cases. Ana Ursachi believes that the real reason for these accusations was the judge's position on her case.

On 20 March 2017, the authorities of Moldova initiated a criminal case against Ursachi under Article 327 of the Criminal Code (‘abuse of power’). She was accused of illegal activities in the provision of legal advice in 2012. Ursachi emphasised that she had been carrying out her professional activities, and Article 327 of the Criminal Code cannot be applied to a counsel.

On 29 March 2018, Judge of the Central Court of Chisinau, Nikolay Korcha, granted the request of the prosecutor's office regarding the arrest of Anna Ursachi. The arrest is sanctioned for a period of 30 days. The hearing was held without the participation of Ursachi’s counsels - Yulian Rusanovsky and Eduard Rudenco. The state attorney Mikhail Lebedinsky was involved in the case. It is noteworthy that different counsels are indicated in the ruling of the court with justification of the arrest and in the arrest warrant itself. Thus, the decision indicates that Lebedinsky participated in the court proceedings, while the warrant indicates that it was Rusanovsky and Rudenco. At the same time, the operative part of the warrant specifies that it was issued on 27 March 2018, although the hearing took place on 29 March 2018. This indicates that the warrant for arrest could have been printed in advance, and the names of the counsels: Rusanovsky and Rudenco were given in it, but, eventually, they did not take part in the court session.

According to Anna Ursachi, on 26 March 2017, a notification on behalf of her was sent to the National Council on Legal Aid provided by the state, in which it was states that she denies the services of any state attorneys, as she trusts only her defenders.

According to Anna Ursachi, the ‘red notice’ of INTERPOL was issued in her name. This means that she can be detained at any time at the request of Moldova.

Eduard Rudenco is a counsel who participates in the defence of Anna Ursachi and other opponents of the oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. Rudenco claimed that he and his family were being subjected to surveillance. According to Rudenco, since 2015, law enforcement officials have demanded that he stop defending certain individuals, threatening him with criminal prosecution.

In 2016, the Moldovan authorities initiated three criminal cases against Rudenco on charges of ‘gaining profit from his influence’ (Article 326 of the CC) in his legal practice in 2009, 2011 and 2014. In 2017, the fourth criminal case was initiated against Rudenco on charges of ‘violating traffic safety rules’ (Article 264 of the CC). He was accused of driving under the influence of alcohol. Rudenco appealed against the results of the examination, stating that the amount of alcohol in the blood did not exceed the limit and was not sufficient to initiate a criminal case. In all criminal cases, court trials continue, and Rudenco is facing a prison sentence.

In addition, Rudenco emphasises that pro-government media are striving to discredit him, systematically spreading false information about his personal life.

Alexandru Machedon – the owner of the group of companies ‘StarNet’ (one of the largest in the telecommunications market of Moldova). He is one of the sponsors of the opposition party ‘The Platform ‘Dignity and Truth’,and he also supports some civil society organisations. Machedon supports the protest movement, which, as he stated, was the reason for the persecution, orchestrated by Vladimir Plahotniuc.

The state authorities have repeatedly tried to deprive ‘StarNet’ of a license, accusing the company of violating the rules of retransmission. For several years, a criminal case was carried out against StarNet. In 2017, an inspection was carried out with regard to ‘StarNet’ in the framework of the investigation of the criminal case on charges of economic crimes. As noted by Machedon, he has recently been subjected to surveillance by law enforcement agencies.

On 22 October 2017, in Chisinau, a fire broke out on one of the central nodes of ‘StarNet’. The company stated that it suffered damages of approx. 430,000 euros.

Domnica Manole – a judge of the Appellate Chamber of Chisinau. On 14 April 2016, she recognised as illegal, the CEC decision to deny holding a referendum on amendments to the Constitution. On 31 May 2016, a criminal case was initiated against the judge on charges of ‘issuing an unjust decision’ (Article 307, section 1 of the Criminal Code). Manole claims that she is being persecuted for issuing a decision, inconvenient to the authorities.

The head of the Superior Council of the Judiciary stated that the arguments of the General Prosecutor raise "reasonable suspicions of Judge Manole’s bad intentions" when issuing the decision on the referendum. On 4 July 2017, the Superior Council of the Judiciary dismissed Manole from her post. 22 Moldovan NGOs expressed concern about the decision.

On 22 November 2017, at a meeting with Domnica Manole, Head of the EU Delegation to Moldova Peter Michalko discussed the problems of the independence of the judiciary in Moldova, as well as details of the criminal prosecution of Manole.

On 5 December 2017, in response to a complaint by Domnica Manole, the Constitutional Court of Moldova found the norms of legislation unconstitutional based on which she had been dismissed from the position of a judge.

Felix Grincu – a businessman, representative of the opposition party ‘Our Party’, which is a pro-Russian political force. On 17 November 2016, Grincu was detained. After that, he was arrested on charges of fraud.

According to the Moldovan legislation, the maximum period of preliminary arrest in one criminal case is 12 months, and so, Grincu should have been released on 17 November 2017. However, on that day, the court granted the prosecutor's motion to arrest Grincu in connection with another criminal case on charges of attempted murder (based on the statement of Grincu’s former business partner). Thus, Grincu continues to be held in custody.

Felix Grincu suffers from hypertension. As reported by his counsel, at the court sessions, Grincu began to feel bad and the doctors were pointing to the threat of a heart attack; still, despite this fact, the judges continued their sessions. Grincu’s family members are striving to persuade the authorities to allow him to be examined in a private clinic.

Counsel Ana Ursachi noted that on 11 November 2016, (a few days before his arrest), Grincu organised a protest action in support of her. According to Ursachi, this caused the intensification of the persecution of Grincu. This was also pointed out by the former Moldovan ambassador to the Council of Europe Alexey Tulbure. He claims that the criminal charges against Grincu are fabricated and politically motivated: “The prosecutor’s office wasn’t able to substantiate any of the criminal charges”.

On 26 December 2017, the Riscani District Court of Chisinau sentenced Felix Grincu to seven years’ imprisonment, having convicted him of ‘false denunciation’ (Article 311 of the CC). Allegedly, Grincu had falsely accused two people of committing a grave crime. The previous charges, on the basis of which Grincu was held under arrest for more than a year, were abolished. Felix Grincu has three minor children who are his dependants.

The death of Andrey Braguța in the detention centre

The European Commission's report on the situation in Moldova, which was published in April 2018, notes the widespread use of pre-trial detention in the country. At the same time, only three of the 17 penitentiary institutions operating in Moldova meet the minimum standards for the detention of detainees and prisoners. The case of death of Andrey Braguța in the detention facility is a vivid confirmation of the presence of systemic shortcomings in the penitentiary system of Moldova.

On 15 August 2017, the police detained Braguța. According to the investigative bodies, he was speeding, after which he behaved aggressively towards the police officers. Immediately after his detention, Braguța's father notified the police that since 2012, his son had been a patient of a mental health clinic. Despite this fact, Braguța was arrested.

On the night of 16 August 2017, while in the cell of the detention facility, Braguța was beaten by his cellmates. On 26 August 2017, he died in the detention centre. Forensic experts indicated ‘bronchopneumonia’ as the cause of death. At the same time, traces of the use of violence were revealed on his body. In early September, 2017, Minister of Justice Vladimir Cebotari, referring to the findings of law enforcement agencies, stated that Braguța had died of purulent tuberculosis. However, he did not deny that Braguța had been subjected to battery in the detention facility.

Two months later, after the case had been widely publicised,on 24 October 2017, the General Prosecutor's Office released a video footage from the surveillance cameras of the detention facility. The video footage, which was publicised, demonstrates several people in the cell severely beating and kicking Braguța in the face; Braguța is lying on the floor and he isn’t resisting the attackers. Several police officers entered the cell, but did not stop the violence. One policeman looked through the door peek, watching the beating. After that, according to the counsel, Braguța was placed in solitary confinement, from which the employees of the pre-trial detention centre took out the blankets, and switched off the water: "Braguța slept naked on the concrete floor, had nothing to eat and was forced to drink from the toilet bowl".

The case of Braguța was widely publicised. During the investigation, Interior Minister Alexander Zhizdan stated that police officers had not been involved in the death of Braguța. However, as a result, criminal cases were initiated against four Braguța's cellmates and 16 policemen. A disciplinary investigation was launched against the prosecutor and the judges who had issued the decision to arrest Braguța. They were dismissed from their posts.

In November 2017, at a meeting of the UN Committee Against Torture, it was noted that the Moldovan prosecutor's office had become aware of Braguța's death only a few days later. Interior Minister Alexander Zhizdan admitted that the staff of the detention facility did not pass the information in due time: "We were not trying to hide anything, we just did not report it on time".

6. Moldova does not fulfill its obligations to the EU, although compliance is a condition for granting macro-financial assistance to the country

On 13 June 2017, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the EU Council issued a joint statement. On the request of Moldova, the EU decided to provide the country with 100 million euros of macro-financial assistance in order to stabilise the economic situation and support reforms in the country. Among the conditions for granting the financial assistance were: respecting democratic mechanisms (including the multi-party parliamentary system, the rule of law and guarantees of observance of human rights), and ensuring an effective fight against corruption and money laundering. The responsibility for monitoring the compliance with the aforementioned conditions rests with the European Commission.

The real actions of the Moldovan authorities, in particular:

  • adoption of new electoral legislation, which contradicts the conclusions of the Venice Commission and reduces the chances of the opposition forces in the forthcoming parliamentary elections of 2017,
  • initiatives to tighten control over the financing of non-profit organisations, which managed to be stopped only due to the reaction of the Moldovan and international community;
  • the politically motivated prosecution of oppositionists, journalists and civil society activists has not been ceased,
  • thus far, the final beneficiaries of the major financial scam, resulting in siphoning off approx. 1 billion US dollars from the banking system of Moldova in 2012-2014, have not been established,

forced the EU to doubt Moldova’s true intentions to fulfill its obligations.

On 21 July, 2017, the High Representative of the EU, Federica Mogherini and the Commissioner Johannes Hahn stated that the manner in which the electoral law was changed, is not in line with Moldova's obligations, assumed in connection with the planned granting of the macro-financial assistance from the EU.

On 27 September 2017, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the situation in Moldova, expressing its support for the initiative to suspend all payments within the framework of the macro-financial assistance for Moldova. The resolution also expresses concern over the deteriorating situation with the rule of law, democratic standards, respect for human rights, selective justice and systemic corruption in Moldova.

Member of the European Parliament Rebecca Harms, noting the problem of political influence on justice and state institutions in Moldova, stated as follows: “We want to be sure that European money does not disappear through shadow channels. (...) We do not want to be complicit in corruption”.

When reporting the results of his visit to Moldova in October 2017, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks stated that there are still shortcomings in the justice system in the country. He expressed his concern about the presumption of guilt in court trials, and cases of intimidation and harassment of counsels. The conclusions of the Council of Europe on the situation in Moldova, published in February 2018, express concern about cases of persecution of certain lawyers, judges and political opponents in the country.

On 11 October 2017, the EU refused to grant 28 million euros for the reform of the justice system in Moldova, as the Moldovan authorities have not demonstrated sufficient commitment to the reform. As a result of inefficient allocation of funds and human resources, the reform was never implemented.

On 23 November 2017, the Moldovan authorities announced the signing of an agreement on the provision of macro-financial assistance from the EU; however, at the same time, they specified that Moldova will make every effort ‘to fulfill the conditions for obtaining the first tranche of the loan’. This confirms that the EU's requirements for observance of the rule of law and democratic standards in the country continue to be relevant.

In April 2018, the vice-chairman of the budget committee of the European Parliament Siegfried Mureşan confirmed that financial assistance of 100 million euros will remain blocked until Moldova complies with the basic requirements of the EU - to review the electoral legislation and solve the problem of general corruption in the country.

The international community continues to insist on an effective investigation of the so-called ‘theft of the century’, which resulted, in the period between 2012 and 2014, with siphoning off approx. 1 billion US dollars from the country's banking system. The Moldovan government hired the consulting company ‘KROLL Inc.’ to investigate the scam, but the main actors involved in the theft are yet to be established. Moldova’s Western partners insist on carrying out an objective and comprehensive investigation, as well as bringing to justice all persons involved in the scam. ‘The lack of progress in this regard can undermine efforts to combat corruption in general’, the statement of the EU-Moldova Association Council meeting, which took place in early May 2018, reads.

7. Conclusions and recommendations

Moldova is rapidly turning into a hotbed of instability, corruption and lawlessness in the region. International observers note a decline in the level of democracy, media freedom and freedom of association, as well as an attack on the civil society.

A narrow circle of people who climbed to power, uses the State for their own enrichment and reprisal with their political opponents. Public interests are replaced by personal interests. The term ‘the captured state’ concisely characterises the situation in Moldova.

Instead of carrying out the necessary anti-corruption and economic reforms, the authorities are prosecuting the opposition, and amending the electoral law in order to increase their chances in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

The Moldovan authorities declare their adherence to European values; still, at the same time, they constantly appear in corruption scandals and fail to implement the reforms. This leads to disillusionment of citizens with the pro-European course of the country. The results of the recent presidential election, won by the pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon, clearly testify to this.

More and more facts indicate that the obligations of Moldovan authorities to international partners are merely declarative in nature.

In March 2018, a mission of experts of the International Monetary Fund to Moldova was carried out. According to its results, it became known that Moldova can expect to receive another tranche of approx. 35 million US dollars under the programme of cooperation with the IMF. The IMF Board of Directors has not yet approved a final decision on the allocation of the tranche. The Open Dialog Foundation hereby encourages the IMF to act in solidarity with the EU bodies and to freeze the provision of financial assistance to Moldova until the situation with observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms improves in the country.

The Open Dialog Foundation hereby welcomes the EU's strong position regarding the provision of the macro-financial assistance to Moldova only provided that the country's authorities fulfill specific conditions. We hereby call on the European Union authorities (European Commission, European Parliament, European Council) to take decisive actions in connection with Moldova's failure to fulfill its obligations. We consider it necessary:

  • To extend financial sanctions in the form of refusal to provide macro-financial assistance to Moldova by the EU. Any other financial assistance should be provided to Moldova only if there is an improvement in the situation with democratic standards and the rule of law in Moldova.
  • To raise the issue of revising the Association Agreement between Moldova and the EU in connection with the increasing number of incidents of violation of democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms in Moldova.
  • To demand the immediate cessation of politically motivated criminal prosecutions of representatives of the opposition, human rights defenders, journalists and judges in Moldova.
  • To introduce personal sanctions against persons involved in politically motivated criminal prosecutions.
  • To demand that conditions for the safe operation of the opposition, NGOs and independent media, be created in the country.

All those wishing to support our demands are welcome to send their statements to the following persons and institutions:

  • European Parliament President Antonio Tajani - 1047 Brussels, Belgium, Bât. Paul-Henri Spaak 09B011, Rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60, tel: +32(0)2 28 45503 (Brussels), +33(0)3 88 1 75503 (Strasbourg);
  • The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker– 1049 Brussels, Belgium Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200, e-mail: president.juncker@ec.europa.eu;
  • The President of the European Council Donald Tusk-– 1048 Brussels, Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 175, e-mail: donald.tusk@european-council.europa.eu, tel: +32 2 28 15650;
  • EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini– 1049 Brussels, Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200,  e-mail: federica.mogherini@ec.europa.eu, tel: +32 2 584 11 11; +32 (0) 2 295 71 69;
  • Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde - 700 19th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20431, e-mail: publicaffairs@imf.org;
  • The Head of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs David Mcallister – 1047 Brussels, Belgium, Bât. Altiero Spinelli 05E240, Rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60, e-mail: david.mcallister@europarl.europa.eu, тел: +32(0)2 28 45323 (Brussels), +33(0)3 88 1 75323 (Strasbourg);
  • The Head of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights Antonio Panzeri – 1047 Brussels, Belgium, Bât. Altiero Spinelli 11G354, Rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60, e-mail: pierantonio-panzeri@europarl.europa.eu, tel: +32(0)2 28 45846 (Brussels), +33(0)3 88 1 75846 (Strasbourg);
  • EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis- e-mail: stavros.lambrinidis@ext.eeas.europa.eu, tel: +32(0)2 584 230;
  • OSCE PA President George Tsereteli — 1070 Vienna, Austria, Neustiftgasse 3/8, tel.: +43 1 523 3002;
  • OSCE PA Chair of the Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions Ignacio Sanchez Amor – e-mail: cristina.casado@gps.congreso.es, tel: +34 91 390 6919;
  • The Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland - e-mail: thorbjorn.jagland@coe.int, tel: + 33 (0)3 88 41 20 00;
  • PACE President Michele Nicoletti — e-mail: nicoletti_m@camera.it;
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein – Palais des Nations  CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, tel: +41 22 917 9220.