Moldovan Journalist Gets 15-Year Jail Sentence in Breakaway Region

A court in the breakaway region of Transdniester has sentenced Moldovan journalist Ernest Vardanean to 15 years in prison for espionage. The conviction prompted protests by the international community that the charges were unfounded.

The 30 year-old journalist was arrested in April in Tiraspol, the de facto capital of the separatist region.  He worked for Novyi Region, a Russian news agency critical of Transdniester’s authorities. Vardanean was also a contributor to RFE’s Moldovan Service, Radio Europa Libera.  His arrest came just days before he was scheduled to begin a blog on the station’s website.

Shortly after the conviction was announced, Vardanean’s wife Irina told RFE that she only learned about the trial from media reports. She said the court-appointed lawyer never contacted her.

“I will take my kids to [the Moldovan capital] Chisinau and protest until they let my husband go, or until we all die there together. We have no other choice,” she said.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) mission in Chisinau said its representatives were denied access when they tried to enter the courtroom on the opening day of Vardanean’s trial in Tiraspol on November 3. The trial was conducted behind closed doors.

The U.S. Embassy in Moldova expressed “concern about the manner in which [Vardanean] was tried and convicted.” In a statement, the U.S. government said there “are serious questions as to whether Mr. Vardanean’s rights have been respected. We continue to strongly urge that the fundamental principles of due process be respected in his case.”

In 1990, Transdniester broke away from Moldova over fears that it would reunite with neighboring Romania. Two years later, it fought a war with Moldovan forces that left 1,500 people dead. The region is not internationally recognized, but is supported by Russia, which has about 500 troops there to guard weapons storage facilities left by the Soviet military.

For more on the Vardanean case, visit RFE’s Journalists in Trouble page.

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