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Moldova

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for investigating all killings involving security forces. Both the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense have internal audit sections responsible for investigating misconduct and ensuring the professional integrity of its personnel. There is no specialized body specifically tasked with reviewing deaths at the hands of police or security forces to determine if they were justified.

In separatist-controlled Transnistria, there was at least one report of a politically motivated killing. On June 10, a 43-year-old businessman, Vadim Ceban, was found dead near his home in Tiraspol, reportedly beaten to death with a shovel. Ceban had openly criticized Transnistrian “authorities” and Russian officials on social media and was one of several local businessmen trying to fight oligarch Viktor Gushan and his Sheriff Corporation’s monopoly over the region’s economy. Ceban posted an image on a popular Transnistrian Facebook group saying, “Sheriff Repent!!!” one week before his death. No suspects have been identified in Ceban’s killing. Civil society activists condemned Ceban’s killing as politically motivated.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

In Transnistria abductions by “security forces” became more common throughout the year. Between October 6 and 8, there were reports of at least four abductions of Moldovan citizens from their homes in the Security Zone, including two Moldovan government employees, by Transnistrian “state security.” After initially refusing to acknowledge or comment on the incident, separatist “authorities” acknowledged the “arrest” of the two Moldovan government employees and released them on October 8. The others remained in separatist custody (see section 1.d.).

There were also reports throughout the year of the disappearances of ordinary Moldovan citizens and Transnistria residents in the Transnistrian region. On August 31, Moldovan citizen Constantin Mamontov disappeared while passing through Transnistria on his way from Ukraine to government-controlled territory in Moldova. After Moldovan government authorities requested information from separatist “authorities” on Mamontov’s whereabouts on September 4, the “authorities” finally confirmed Mamontov’s detention on September 10. The human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Promo-LEX reported on September 13 that Mamontov managed to escape from the region after 13 days of illegal detention and having his whereabouts kept secret by separatist “authorities.” Promo-LEX asserted that Mamontov’s disappearance suggested retaliation by members of Transnistria’s “law enforcement” for their comrade, Andrei Samonii, a former Transnistrian militia member, who was arrested by Moldovan government authorities and sentenced to 15 years in prison for kidnapping, illegally detaining, and torturing Constantin Mamontov and his spouse on charges of stealing in 2015.

After defecting from the Transnistrian “army” and fleeing to government-controlled territory in 2015, Alexandru Rjavitin disappeared while visiting family in Transnistria in December 2019. Rjavitin reappeared in the Transnistrian “army” in January but reportedly escaped in June and was presumed to have returned to government-controlled territory.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

While the law prohibits such practices, the antitorture prosecution office reported allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, mainly in detention facilities. Reports included cases of mistreatment in pretrial detention centers in police stations, particularly in regional police inspectorates. Impunity persisted and the number of prosecutions for torture initiated was far below the number of complaints filed.

The Office of the Prosecutor General’s antitorture division reported a decrease in mistreatment and torture cases during the year. During the first six months of the year, prosecutors received 262 allegations of mistreatment and torture, which included 241 cases of mistreatment, eight torture cases, and nine cases of law enforcement using threats or intimidation, including the actual or threatened use of violence, to coerce a suspect or witness to make a statement. In comparison authorities reported 456 allegations of mistreatment and torture during the first six months of 2019.

In September the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released a report detailing the findings from its January-February visit to the country. The report noted that the persistence of a prison subculture that fostered interprisoner violence and a climate of fear and intimidation, reliance on informal prisoner leaders to keep control over the inmate population, and a general lack of trust in the staff’s ability to guarantee prisoner safety remained serious concerns. The CPT reported several allegations of physical mistreatment (punches and kicks) by prison officers at Penitentiary No. 13 in Chisinau, the excessive use of force by staff when dealing with agitated inmates at the penitentiaries in Chisinau (No. 13), Cahul (No. 5), and Taraclia (No. 1) and excessively tight handcuffing at the Chisinau and Taraclia prisons.

In September a man was reportedly beaten in custody at the Cimislia Police Inspectorate’s Temporary Detention Isolator by one of the facility’s officers. The Moldovan Institute for Human Rights (IDOM) noted that during an audit of the facility, its monitor encountered a shirtless man in custody with bruises and injuries covering his face, arms, and torso. The man claimed that during questioning after his initial arrest, he was punched in the face by one of the facility’s officers and subjected to further physical abuse throughout his detention. The IDOM monitor conducting the audit reported seeing a laceration on the bridge of the man’s nose. The case was reported to the Anti-Torture Prosecutor’s Office, which was investigating at year’s end.

As of October, two criminal cases continued from the 2017 death of Andrei Braguta. Thirteen police officers are accused of inhuman treatment and torture against Braguta, and two doctors from Penitentiary No. 16, where Braguta died, are accused of workplace negligence. Braguta died in a pretrial detention facility in Chisinau in 2017 after being severely beaten by fellow inmates and being subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment by prison authorities. In an August press conference, Braguta’s parents expressed concern regarding the impunity of the 13 police officers and two doctors involved in the case. According to them, 100 out of 140 court hearings have either been postponed or canceled since 2017. This claim was independently verified by Promo-Lex.

In Transnistria there were reports of allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in detention facilities, including denial of medical assistance and prolonged solitary confinement. There was no known mechanism to investigate alleged acts of torture by Transnistrian “security forces.” Promo-LEX noted that “authorities” perpetrated most inhuman and degrading treatment in the Transnistrian region in order to obtain self-incriminating confessions. Transnistrian “law enforcement” bodies did not publicly report any investigations or prosecutions for torture or inhuman treatment by Transnistrian “security forces” during the year.

In January the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in the case, Cazac and Surchician vs. Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation, holding the Russian Federation responsible for violating articles of the European Convention on Human Rights that prohibit torture and provide the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial; the right to respect for private and family life, and the right to an effective remedy. The case stemmed from the 2010 detention of Ilie Cazac by Transnistrian “law enforcement authorities,” who subsequently tried, convicted, and sentenced Cazac to 14 years in prison for “high treason.” During his time in pretrial detention and in prison after conviction, the ECHR found that Cazac was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. Cazac reported being threatened with beating and infection with HIV. He also reported being: drugged; denied food, water, sleep, and the use of a toilet for extended periods; exposed to cellmates with active tuberculosis; and placed in a constant state of psychological stress and intimidation. Cazac was “pardoned” by Transnistrian “authorities” and released in 2011. The ECHR ordered the Russian Federation to pay Cazac and Surchician a total of 42,000 euros ($50,000) for nonpecuniary damages and 4,000 euros ($4,800) for costs and expenses.

The Transnistria-based human rights NGO MediaCenter reported continuing violations of detainees’ rights in Transnistrian prisons, pretrial detention centers, and centers for persons with special needs. Serghey Mantaluta, sentenced in 2018 to 10 years in prison on charges of smuggling and insulting an “official,” was denied medical assistance after a bone fracture and kept in solitary confinement without access to a toilet. Children at the Hlinaia residential center for orphans with special needs were reportedly subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment, including beating, dunking in washbasins, and other forms of corporal punishment.

Defense attorney Veaceslav Turcan alleged that his client, Ghenadyi Kuzmiciov, formerly Transnistria’s “minister of internal affairs,” suffered from inhuman detention conditions throughout the year. Kuzmiciov was abducted from government-controlled territory in 2017 and transported to Transnistria, where in 2019 he was sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges of smuggling and illegal possession of firearms. Turcan stated that Kuzmiciov has been in solitary confinement and denied access to visitors, mail, and other outside communications since 2017.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Despite reconstruction work and minor improvements at several detention facilities, conditions in most prisons and detention centers remained harsh, owing to poor sanitation, lack of privacy, insufficient or no access to outdoor exercise, and a lack of facilities for persons with disabilities. During the year additional restrictions and lockdowns were put in place in the prisons for an extended period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Physical Conditions: Prisons and detention centers were overcrowded. In a September report following its visit to the country in January-February, the CPT noted the existence of large-capacity dormitories, low staffing levels in prisons, and insufficient health-care personnel.

Health care was inadequate at most penitentiaries and worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic because of a lack of protective equipment. While government regulations require authorities to separate individuals suspected of suffering from tuberculosis from other detainees, authorities reportedly colocated individuals with various diseases with persons with an unconfirmed diagnosis of tuberculosis, potentially exposing them to the disease. Most penitentiaries lacked appropriate facilities for persons with disabilities, which led to inhuman and degrading treatment. There were 36 deaths in penitentiary facilities registered as of October, including five pretrial detainees. The National Penitentiary Administration reported heart disease and cancer as main causes of death among prison inmates. According to Promo-LEX, the deficient administration of health services in penitentiaries led to a low quality of medical services provided to prison inmates, which in many cases led to death. Independent monitors noted the existence of two parallel healthcare systems in the country: the public healthcare system and the unaccredited healthcare system in penitentiaries, as well as a lack of coordination between the two.

As of August 25, National Penitentiary Administration officials confirmed 30 cases of COVID-19 among inmates and 68 cases among prison staff since the start of the pandemic. Inmates diagnosed with COVID-19 were generally transferred to the prison medical facility at Penitentiary No. 16 in Pruncul for treatment.

Temporary detention facilities, located mostly in the basements of police stations, generally lacked natural light, adequate ventilation, and sewage systems. Human rights NGOs also noted facility staff did not feed pretrial detainees on the days of their court hearings–which in some cases meant they received no food for a day. In most cases detainees did not have access to potable water on the days of their court hearings.

In February the government applied a six-month moratorium on a compensatory mechanism enacted in January 2019 that allowed detainees to request a reduction of their sentences for poor detention conditions. According to a 2019 National Penitentiary Administration report, over 90 percent of detainees filed requests based on the compensatory mechanism. Courts examined 1,800 requests, reduced sentences by a total of 436,000 days, and released 128 persons from prison. Observers and legal NGOs noted that wealthy and politically connected individuals benefited from this mechanism more often than ordinary prisoners. In December 2019 former prime minister Vlad Filat was released from Penitentiary No. 13 in Chisinau after serving approximately three-and-a-half years of a nine-year sentence after the Chisinau District Court ruled that he had been held in “inhuman and degrading conditions.”

As in previous years, conditions at Penitentiary No.13 in Chisinau were reported the worst in the country. Detainees held there complained of detention in basement cells that did not meet national or international standards. Allegations of inhuman treatment persisted. In multiple cases the ECHR found that detention conditions in Penitentiary No. 13 were contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. Cells were overcrowded (up to 16 inmates housed in an area measuring 258 square feet), unhygienic, and lacked ventilation, natural light, or permanent access to water for personal hygiene.

In separatist-controlled Transnistria, mistreatment of detainees remained a major problem. The Transnistrian “ombudsman” received 53 complaints from individuals detained in Transnistrian prisons. The Transnistrian “ombudsman” noted a slight decrease of complaints from detainees during the year. The “ombudsman” received four complaints about medical care in the prison system, which the “ombudsman” considered unfounded. According to Promo-LEX reports, detention conditions in Transnistria did not improve during the year, despite a 2019 report from the Transnistrian “ombudsman” indicating that detention conditions had improved. Transnistrian “authorities” continued to deny access for independent evaluation of detention center conditions.

Administration: Internal investigation procedures in the penitentiary system remained weak, and detainees had restricted access to complaint mechanisms. While detainees generally had the right to submit complaints to judicial authorities, they reported censorship and retaliatory punishment by prison personnel or other inmates before or after filing complaints. Prison administrations restricted the inmates’ access to visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic, and most court hearings of pretrial detainees were held online.

The CPT noted a chronic shortage of custodial staff in prisons, which led to a reliance on informal prisoner leaders to keep control over the inmate population, often through violence.

According to the Transnistrian “ombudsman,” there are 1,824 individuals serving prison terms in Transnistrian “department of corrections” institutions as of January 1.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights observers, including the CPT. Prison officials generally allowed observers to interview inmates in private. Prison administrations applied COVID-19 related restrictions on monitoring visits since the start of the pandemic.

Human rights NGOs from both Transnistria and government-controlled areas of the country reported being denied access to Transnistrian prisons by separatist “authorities.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was granted extremely limited access to individual prisoners by “authorities” on a case-by-case basis. There were no reports of any independent monitoring of detention facilities in the Transnistrian region. According to the Transnistrian “ombudsman” (an institution which is not independent of the ruling regime), detention conditions slightly improved during 2019. Most pretrial detention cells lacked personal beds for detained individuals and toilet facilities, and was qualified by the Transnistrian “ombudsman” as an “infringement against human dignity.”

Improvements: According to human rights NGOs, the situation in police station detention facilities slightly improved due to renovations. Based on the Ombudsman’s Torture Prevention Division recommendations, some pretrial detention units within police stations ceased operating or underwent repairs in line with minimum detention standards.

The CPT noted improvements of the material conditions at the prisons in Chisinau, Cahul, Taraclia, and several police detention facilities. During the year the National Penitentiary Administration piloted and expanded the use of video conferencing to facilitate inmate participation in court hearings. The country lacks adequate staff for prisoner transport, and increased access to justice via video conferences reduces the physical hardships for inmates to be transferred from prisons to courts, where they must often wait for many hours in difficult conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Nonetheless, selective justice remained an issue and lawyers complained of instances in which their defendants’ rights to a fair trial were denied.

In Transnistria there were frequent reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions. De facto “authorities” reportedly engaged with impunity in arbitrary arrest and detention. In January in the case Cazac and Surchician vs. Republic of Moldovan and the Russian Federation, the ECHR held Russia responsible for violating provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights including the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, and the right to an effective remedy (see section 1.c.).

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law allows judges to issue arrest warrants based on evidence from prosecutors. Authorities must promptly inform detainees of the reasons for their arrest and describe the charges against them. Authorities may detain suspects without charge for 72 hours.

Once charged, a detainee may be released pending trial. The law provides for bail, but authorities generally did not use it due to a lack of practical mechanisms for implementation. In lieu of confinement, the courts may also impose house arrest or travel restrictions. The Superior Council of Magistrates reported that judges rarely applied alternative arrest measures. The law provides safeguards against arbitrary use of pretrial detention and requires noncustodial alternatives wherever possible. Judges disproportionally used noncustodial alternative detention mechanisms in cases with political implications.

Detainees have the right to a defense attorney. The government required the local bar association to provide representation to indigent defendants, but the government frequently delayed reimbursement of legal fees. Indigent defendants often did not have adequate counsel.

According to the CPT report issued in September, despite the law requiring that suspects be granted access to a lawyer from the moment they are detained, some criminal suspects were only granted access to legal counsel after initial questioning by police.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary pretrial detention continued to be a problem during the year. In April the Legal Resources Center of Moldova (LRCM) submitted a communication to the ECHR on existing protections and authorities’ efforts to prevent unjustified detention based on the Sarban group of cases that consists of 14 ECHR judgments against the country for various violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, most related to pretrial detention. The LRCM concluded that the high rate of remand and weak justification for remand orders remained a problem. Even though the number of pretrial detention orders (1,864) in 2019 was lower than in previous years, judges did not properly examine remand requests. In 2019 the approval rate for remand requests reached an all-time high–93.5 percent–compared with 88.4 percent in 2018. According to the LRCM, alternative preventive measures (such as home detention and release on recognizance) were used only to a limited extent and the high rate of arbitrary remand was also due to insufficient judicial independence and prosecutorial bias by many investigative judges as well as a high caseload, which impeded a thorough examination of case materials.

In its earlier reports, the ombudsman noted judges continued to order pretrial detention for persons with serious illnesses and the National Penitentiary Administration allowed lengthy pretrial detention of persons with worsening health conditions which in some cases led to death. During the year five persons died in pretrial detention.

In separatist-controlled Transnistria, arbitrary arrests were common throughout the year. On August 31, Moldovan citizen Constantin Mamontov was apprehended by separatist “law enforcement” while transiting the territory and detained illegally for 13 days (see section 1.b.). A Transnistrian “court” in Camenca had previously twice denied warrants to arrest Mamontov requested by Transnistrian “authorities” for an alleged 2015 theft, and the local militia arrested Mamontov for the third time on hooliganism charges. Mamontov escaped and swam across the Nistru River to government-controlled territory after being ordered released for a third time by the “court.” Mamontov was previously abducted from government-controlled territory in 2015 and beaten by Transnistrian local militia. Mamontov’s arrest came two weeks after one of his abusers, militia “officer” Andrei Samonii, was convicted in August by a Moldovan court for kidnapping and torture and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Human rights NGO Promo-LEX believed Mamontov’s arbitrary arrest was intended either as revenge for Samonii’s imprisonment or to facilitate a possible prisoner swap for Samonii.

On October 6, Transnistrian “state security” (“MGB”) abducted a Moldovan police officer, Andrei Amarfi, from his home in Camenca district in separatist-controlled territory. On October 7 and 8, three other Moldovan citizens residing in Camenca–Alexandru Puris, Adrian Glijin, and Stanislav Minzarari–were abducted by the “MGB.” Transnistrian “authorities” later announced espionage and high treason charges against all four. Amarfi was the Moldovan police officer sent in 2015 to retrieve Mamontov and his wife from separatists after they were kidnapped and tortured. Puris, an employee of Moldova’s Public Services Agency, processed Andrei Samonii’s application for a Moldovan passport in January and notified Moldovan police of his presence on government-controlled territory, leading to his arrest. Both Amarfi and Puris testified at Samonii’s kidnapping and torture trial. On October 8, following a telephone call between President Dodon and Transnistrian “leader” Krasnoselsky, separatist “authorities” announced that Amarfi and Puris were released from pretrial arrest but were not permitted to leave the region while charges remained pending. Glijin and Minzarari remained in custody as of November. Separatist “authorities” acknowledged that the arrests were related to Samonii’s conviction and imprisonment and have suggested that the “Camenca Four” could be released if Samonii was returned to separatist-controlled territory.

Pretrial Detention: The law permits pretrial detention for up to 30 days, which the courts may extend, upon the request of prosecutors, in 30-day increments for up to 12 months, depending on the severity of the charges. Pretrial detention lasting from several months to one year was common. In line with the ombudsman’s recommendations, the Prosecutor General’s Office decreed on March 19 that, as a COVID-19 preventative measure, pretrial arrests could only be requested in extreme circumstances. As a result the number of pretrial detainees decreased during the state of emergency and the public health state of emergency that followed.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the law provides for an independent judiciary, government officials’ failure to respect judicial independence remained a problem. The establishment of an electronic case management system increased transparency in the assignment of judges to cases. Nonetheless, selective justice continued to be a problem, and lawyers complained of violations of defendants’ rights to a fair public trial.

In a September report analyzing ECHR judgments against Moldova since the country joined the European Convention of Human Rights in 1997, the LRCM found that the failure to respect the right to a fair trial was the most frequent human rights violation reported to the court (200 out of 616 human rights violations).

Media representatives and NGOs were concerned about limitations on access to data on the national courts’ information portal developed by the Ministry of Justice’s Agency for Court Administration. Civil society and journalists complained that, because there was no search option, they could not find the names of those involved in court cases, nor could they determine who adjudicated or prosecuted a case. The courts restricted public access to the final judgement issued in a high-profile case involving a former intelligence service head on national security grounds.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial. Although the law presumes the innocence of defendants in criminal cases, judges’ remarks occasionally jeopardized the presumption of innocence.

Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, and of their right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to a lawyer and to attend proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence. The law requires the government to provide an attorney to indigent defendants. The practice of appointing temporary defense lawyers without allowing them to prepare adequately was common and undermined the right to legal assistance. Defendants can request postponement of a hearing if attorneys need additional time for preparation. Interpretation is provided upon request and was generally available. Judges can delay hearings if additional time is needed to find interpreters for certain uncommon languages. Defendants may refuse to provide evidence against themselves, unless they plead guilty and the judge reviews and endorses their guilty plea. The law provides a right to appeal convictions to a higher court on matters of fact and law.

Justice NGOs noted that courts repeatedly delayed hearings without justification in high profile cases. In one example, hearings on a criminal appeal by Ilan Shor, the leader of the Shor Party, a member of parliament, and the mayor of Orhei, were delayed throughout the year.

In Transnistria, “authorities” disregarded fair trial procedures and denied defendants a fair trial. Attorneys in Transnistria reported that “authorities” regularly denied accused individuals the right to an attorney of their choosing and that trials were often held in secret without public announcement of charges.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of numerous alleged politically motivated criminal cases initiated by the former ruling Democratic Party of Moldova. Many of the cases were initiated against political rivals of the former party leader, Vlad Plahotniuc, and some prosecutors reported being pressured to pursue cases selectively of corruption, money laundering, and fraud against certain individuals, while ignoring or dropping charges against others who were tied to Plahotniuc’s network. Many of those involved in these politically motivated cases saw their cases proceed more quickly than others in the justice system. In addition many of those subjected to pretrial detention were held in Penitentiary No. 13 in Chisinau, which was notorious for its poor conditions and violence between inmates. On October 27, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced it had closed 19 out of 38 alleged politically motivated cases. The Prosecutor General’s Office continued to investigate the remaining 19 cases through the year.

In Transnistria there were reports of several political prisoners held during the year, many of whom were held for exercising their freedom of expression or criticizing the de facto authorities. Oleg Horjan, the leader of the Communist Party and formerly the sole opposition member of the “Supreme Soviet” (“parliament”) of Transnistria, continued to serve a four-and-a-half year sentence in Hlinaia Penitentiary on assault charges and for “insulting” de facto authorities. Human rights lawyers and NGOs have called the charges politically motivated. Horjan’s lawyers and family alleged that he was subject to abuse in detention. Transnistrian “authorities” denied the Moldovan ombudsman access to his place of detention. In early August, Horjan went on a hunger strike to protest restrictions by the Hlinaia penitentiary administration, including solitary confinement and denial of visits, mail or other outside communications, and reading materials. He was reportedly hospitalized in the prison infirmary on September 10 after his health had rapidly deteriorated and then moved to the Tiraspol Veteran’s Hospital on September 15 in serious condition. Horjan was returned to prison after ending his hunger strike on September 23.

Tatiana Belova and her spouse, Serghei Mirovici, were arrested in August 2019 for insulting Transnistrian “leader” Vadim Krasnoselsky on social media. Transnistrian “authorities” kept Belova and Mirovici’s arrest, pretrial detention, and trial secret. In March, Belova and Mirovici were sentenced to three years in prison in a closed trial without a defense attorney. On July 14, Belova was released following “an admission of guilt,” request for clemency, and promise to refrain from all political activity. Human rights activists asserted that the actions were coerced. Mirovoci remained imprisoned and was reportedly on a hunger strike as of September 10.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law allows citizens to seek damages in civil courts for human rights violations. Under the constitution, the government is liable when authorities violate a person’s rights by administrative means, fail to reply in a timely manner to an application for relief, or commit misconduct during a prosecution. Judgments awarded in such cases were often small and not enforced. Once all domestic avenues for legal remedy are exhausted, individuals may appeal cases involving the government’s alleged violation of rights provided under the European Convention on Human Rights to the ECHR. Citizens who have exhausted all available domestic remedies may also submit a written communication to the UN Human Rights Committee. As of July there were 1,096 applications filing complaints against the state pending before the ECHR.

While the government declared a zero-tolerance policy toward torture, alleged victims of torture frequently lacked access to effective civil judicial remedies, especially in cases involving mistreatment in penal institutions.

A mediation law establishes an alternative mechanism for voluntarily resolving civil and criminal cases and sets forth rules for professional mediators. Under the law, a nine-member mediation council selected by the Minister of Justice coordinates the mediators’ activity.

Property Restitution

The country has endorsed the Terezin Declaration and the Guidelines and Best Practices. Although the law provides for restitution of private property confiscated during the “totalitarian regimes which controlled Moldovan territory between 1917 and 1992 and for citizens who were subject to reprisals based on political, national, religious, or social grounds,” it does not apply to communal or religious property confiscated from minority groups. The law specifically refers to private property restoration for victims of the Soviet regime. The government has enacted no laws concerning restitution of communal property nor made progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens.

A 2010 report published by the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad catalogued 100 Jewish communal properties in Moldova, including cemeteries, monuments, houses, hospitals, colleges, and other buildings, most of which are not owned or controlled by the country’s Jewish community. While a few properties, such as the Hay Synagogue in Chisinau and the Cahul Synagogue in Cahul, have been returned to the Jewish community by the state, in most cases Jewish organizations have had to purchase or lease communal and religious properties from the government in order to regain possession. Purchased properties include the Wooden (or Lemnaria) Synagogue and the Rabbi Tsirelson Synagogue and Yeshiva, both in Chisinau.

The Moldovan Orthodox Church (MOC), subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Bessarabian Orthodox Church (BOC), under the Romanian Orthodox Church, were engaged in litigation over control of approximately 718 churches, monasteries, and monuments designated by the government as national heritage assets, most of which are controlled by the MOC under a 2007 agreement between the church and the government. The BOC also sued the government to annul the 2007 agreement.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Chisinau has submitted a case to the ECHR seeking restitution for a Catholic school property seized by Soviet authorities which is now part of the Moldovan Presidency Building complex. The Catholic Diocese of Chisinau and the government agreed to seek an amicable settlement to the ECHR case but have not reached an agreement on the transfer of an alternative state-owned property to the diocese as restitution.

The country’s Lutheran community has repeatedly petitioned the government for compensatory state-owned land as restitution for the former site of Saint Nicholas Lutheran Church in central Chisinau. The church was seized by Soviet authorities in 1944 and demolished in 1962. The Presidency Building now occupies the former site of the church.

For more information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related issues, please see that Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020 at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence unless necessary to ensure state security, economic welfare or public order, or to prevent crimes. Government agents often failed to respect these prohibitions. Wiretap and surveillance practices continued during the year, although reportedly with fewer cases of politically motivated surveillance operations than during the Democratic Party of Moldova-led government.

Reports of illegal wiretaps of the telephones of political leaders; surveillance; threats against family members; and intimidation against regional representatives of ruling and opposition parties continued during the year and intensified closer to the November 1 presidential elections. In September 2019 the interim prosecutor general announced the initiation of criminal cases against four Interior Ministry employees, three prosecutors, and four judges by the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office for wiretapping of politicians, civil society activists, and journalists between 2017 and 2019. The investigations continued as of year’s end. In July a group of five persons who were under surveillance in 2019, including two civil society leaders, a member of an opposition political party, and two journalists, sent a complaint to the ECHR alleging illegal wiretapping and surveillance by authorities in 2019. Opposition parties reported the unsanctioned use of personal data of citizens abroad during the preliminary registration of voters for the November 1 presidential elections.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression and allows individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of general public interest. Restrictions apply only in cases when such discussion poses a threat to national security, territorial integrity, public order, or safety. Nonetheless, there were allegations that authorities did not always respect freedom of expression for the press. Journalists were subjected to harassment, intimidation, and frequent lawsuits. Concentration of ownership of major media outlets in the hands of a few political figures, and oligarchs further limited the independence of the press.

Freedom of Speech: In Transnistria a 2020-2026 Strategy for Combating Extremism was approved on March 20 that provides “authorities” new repressive tools to silence dissent and further repress freedom of expression, complementing the existing 2007 “law” on fighting extremism activities. There were at least five individuals facing charges pursuant to the “antiextremism” law for publicly criticizing the de facto “authorities” during the year.

Larisa Calic, a writer from Transnistria, was charged with extremism after she published a book about violent hazing and corruption in the Transnistrian “army.” Calic fled Transnistria and was in hiding. Alexandr Samonii, a member of the Tiraspol “city council” for the opposition Communist Party, has been under investigation since June 2 for extremism based on social media postings in which he criticized the ruling regime in Transnistria. Samonii reportedly fled Transnistria and remained in hiding. Individuals such as Oleg Horjan, Tatiana Belova, and Serghei Mirovici (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees) were sentenced to prison for criticizing “authorities” by “insulting a public official,” an act which is prohibited under the region’s “criminal code.”

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: According to media, NGOs, and international monitors, independent media were active and expressed a plurality of views but were often marginalized by larger outlets owned or controlled by a few politicians and oligarchs. Large media outlets pressured smaller outlets, including by colluding to prevent advertisers from buying advertising space from those smaller outlets, which brought several to the brink of closing. Prominent journalists left key outlets acquired by oligarchs. Internal and external propaganda and manipulation, concentration of ownership of mass media in the hands of some politicians and oligarchs, unfair competition within the television advertising market, and limited independence of the broadcasting regulatory authority, the Audiovisual Council (CCA), were among the major problems that restricted independent media space.

Oligarchs closely supervised content and maintained editorial control over reporting from outlets they owned or controlled. Russian news channels rebroadcast in the country continued to disseminate propaganda and presented distorted information about regional and international events.

Media outlets supportive of President Dodon and the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova expanded their dominance in the media market, replacing former Democratic Party of Moldova leader Vlad Plahotniuc as having the largest media holdings.

On March 24, during the state of emergency that was declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCA issued a ruling blocking media outlets from criticizing the government’s response to the pandemic or reporting information that contradicted the government or World Health Organization’s official statements. The CCA cancelled the order on March 26 after public outcry from NGOs, opposition parties, and diplomatic missions.

On July 9, parliament approved the appointment of three new CCA members; opposition parliamentarians claimed the selection process was not transparent or inclusive.

Independent media NGOs and watchdogs accused the CCA and the public broadcaster, Teleradio Moldova, of progovernment bias. The NGOs also noted the government discriminated against media outlets that were not affiliated with President Dodon or the Socialist Party by refusing them access to senior officials for interviews.

On October 26, the CCA penalized TV8 with a 7,000 lei (approximately $400) fine for “not ensuring impartiality” during the talk show “Natalia Morari’s Politics.” The CCA ruled that the show failed to uphold impartiality and balance of opinion when one of the guests on the talk show, lawyer Ștefan Gligor, said there were risks of election fraud in the upcoming November 1 presidential election. The CCA stated that TV8 failed to give airtime to the opposing view. TV8 representatives stated that the channel ensured balance of opinion throughout the show and did not limit the right to freedom of expression. TV8 characterized the CCA’s action as an attempt to silence media discussion of possible electoral fraud and “an attack on freedom of expression.” On October 31, the Chisinau Court of Appeal struck down the CCA fine and ruled that TV8 did not violate the requirement for balance of opinion. On November 1, the Supreme Court of Justice affirmed the Court of Appeal ruling cancelling the fine.

Media freedom in separatist-controlled Transnistria remained a concern despite the local “authorities’” declarations that they would promote competition and media freedom. During the year, Freedom House again assessed the Transnistrian region’s media as “not free.” Transnistrian television channels and radio stations are regulated by the “state media service” and “state telecommunications service.” The “state media service” oversees “state-run” media and “state” policy in the information sector.

Two organizations controlled the Transnistrian mass media market: the “Public Agency for Telecommunication,” which controlled official news information agencies, newspapers, and one of the two most popular television channels; and Sheriff Holding, a business conglomerate with considerable influence in the Transnistrian “Supreme Soviet.”

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of government and political leaders obstructing freedom of the press by restricting the media’s ability to cover events. Journalists were subjected to harassment, intimidation, and frequent lawsuits. Female journalists, in particular, were subjected to intimidation.

On May 20, the Nordnews.md portal team was denied access to the headquarters of the Drochia district council where President Dodon met representatives of local public authorities. Employees of the State Protection and Guard Service (SPPS) also prohibited filming of the presidential motorcade.

On May 18, journalist Natalia Cebotari was fined 2,400 lei (approximately $140) by police for alleged defamation for her coverage of abusive and unhealthy work conditions at a textile factory in the town of Ceadir-Lunga that had also violated COVID-19 safety guidelines. She was charged only after the factory manager filed a complaint with local police. The media community condemned the move as interference with media freedom.

There were also reports of government officials initiating lawsuits against media outlets for their investigative reporting into corruption allegations and the officials’ personal assets.

In January, Deputy Prosecutor General Ruslan Popov filed a defamation lawsuit against the Center for Independent Journalism in response to two investigative reports implicating him in corruption.

In May the Ziarul de Garda newspaper was targeted in a defamation lawsuit by President Igor Dodon in response to an investigation revealing his wealth and assets. The second hearing was scheduled for September, but did not take place due to Dodon’s refusal to attend. The hearing was postponed to November.

Censorship or Content Restriction: In many cases, journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflicts with the sponsors or owners of their media outlets, many of whom are politicians or oligarchs connected to political parties.

Journalists voiced concern that a personal data protection law restricted journalists’ access to information. In addition investigating journalists complained of problems accessing websites of legal entities. Journalists also noted that a March 18 decision by the Emergency Situation Commission’s to extend the deadline for authorities to respond to public information requests from 15 days to 45 days during the state of emergency, undermined the public’s right to access to information.

In Transnistria journalists similarly practiced self-censorship and avoided criticizing separatists’ goal of independence or their “foreign policy” to avoid “official” reprisals.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are punishable by a fine, community service, being barred from holding certain public offices for a period of months, or a combination of these punishments. Defamation is not a crime, but individuals and organizations can be sued civilly for defamation. Some newspapers practiced self-censorship and avoided controversial issues due to concerns that government officials and other public figures could use slander or defamation accusations to retaliate against critical news reports (see the Natalia Cebotari case under Violence and Harassment, above).

As modified in March 2019, the “law” in Transnistria criminalizes public insults of the region’s “leader,” which may be punished by a fine or up to five years in prison.

On April 7, Transnistrian “law enforcement” arrested Irina Vasilachi, a civic activist and opposition politician, after she accused Igor Nebeigolova, a close ally of former Transnistrian “leader” Igor Smirnov, of corruption and criminal activity on her YouTube channel, where she posted videos criticizing the Transnistrian leadership and its associates. Vasilachi was found guilty of slander and fined the equivalent of $170. Irina Vasilachi fled the region for Chisinau with her children on December 20, fearing arrest in a criminal case opened against her in Transnistria on accusations of using force against Transnistrian law enforcement officials on April 7. Tatiana Belova and Serghei Mirovici were similarly arrested and received three-year prison sentences for “insulting” the Transnistrian “leader” online (see also section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Internet Freedom

The government did restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

On March 20, the country’s national intelligence agency, the Information and Security Service, blocked 52 online news portals for the duration of the 60-day state of emergency period, claiming that the sites were spreading “fake news” about the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Transnistria the agency on telecommunication services ordered the second largest internet service provider (ISP), Linkservice in Transnistria, operating in Bender/Tighina, to cease operations on January 12 due to violations of the region’s ISP “regulations.” On April 28, an “appeals court” allowed Linkservice to continue its operations throughout the COVID-19 state of emergency in the region. Internet users and civil society in Transnistria suggested that the region’s largest ISP, Sheriff-controlled Inderdnestrcom, was trying to eliminate its competitors in the ISP market in Transnistria.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The National Extraordinary Public Health Commission restricted public gatherings and cultural events during a state of emergency and public health state of emergency imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were no other government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events outside of quarantine restrictions.

In Transnistria Latin-script schools continued to be the subject of a dispute between the government and separatist “authorities” in Transnistria. COVID-19 quarantine measures imposed by “authorities” obstructed the free movement of Latin-script schools’ staffs and students across the administrative line from March until September 1. Teachers could not cross the line to receive their salaries from the government. Starting September 1, Latin-script school students and staffs were once again allowed to cross the administrative line with proper identification.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; authorities imposed additional restrictions during the state of emergency declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly. While the government usually respected this right, there were several exceptions.

On July 16, a group of veterans from the 1992 Transnistria conflict protested the government’s failure to improve veterans’ services. Police prevented protesters from erecting tents outside the parliament building, leading to clashes between law enforcement and the protesters. Civil society and opposition claimed riot police violently dispersed the protesters and disproportionately used crowd-dispersing methods, such as batons, Tasers, and tear gas. Several protesters were arrested for allegedly assaulting police, and an opposition member of parliament claimed to have witnessed police beating a protester. Human rights NGOs condemned police actions against the protesters, calling them “disproportionate and unjustified.”

The government also banned public gatherings during the COVID-19 state of emergency, but allowed small-scale gatherings of up to 50 persons during the subsequent public health state of emergency, provided that participants respected social distance. “Authorities” in Transnistria continued to restrict freedom of assembly and generally refused permits for public protests.

“Authorities” in Transnistria continued to restrict freedom of assembly and generally refused permits for public protests.

Ghenadie Ciorba, a civil society activist and opponent of the Transnistrian regime, was charged with extremism for organizing a July 2 protest on the Ribnita-Rezina Bridge against travel restrictions imposed by the Transnistrian “authorities” under the pretext of combating the COVID-19 pandemic. He remained in pretrial detention at year’s end. Nine other protesters received administrative fines.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association and states that citizens are free to form parties and other social and political organizations, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits organizations “engaged in fighting against political pluralism, the principles of the rule of law, or the sovereignty and independence or territorial integrity” of the country.

In Transnistria separatist “authorities” severely restricted freedom of association, granting it only to persons they recognized as “citizens” of the region. All activities had to be coordinated with local “authorities”; groups that did not comply faced criminal charges and harassment by “security forces.” “Authorities” strictly prohibited organizations favoring reintegration with the rest of the country and prosecuted several individuals for organizing or leading an extremist group–charges that carry a penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government restricted foreign travel and closed or partially closed international borders with neighboring countries.

In Transnistria “authorities” continued to restrict travel to and from the region and imposed additional travel restrictions during the year, citing concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

In-country movement: Transnistrian “authorities” continued to impose restrictions on travel to and from the region and installed 37 (later reduced to 11) illegal checkpoints in the Nistru Valley Security Zone without Joint Control Commission authorization on the pretext of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Movements through separatist checkpoints were subject to prior approval from the Transnistrian “COVID-19 crisis center,” headed by the Transnistrian “minister of interior,” Ruslan Mova. The Moldovan government, Moldovan human rights NGOs, and Transnistria residents condemned the movement restrictions as abusive and a human rights violation.

Foreign Travel: Although citizens generally may depart from and return to the country freely, there were some limitations on emigration and COVID-19-related travel restrictions. The law requires individuals to settle before emigrating all outstanding financial obligations with other persons or legal entities. The government did not strictly enforce this requirement. The law also provides that close relatives who are financially dependent on a potential emigrant must concur before the prospective emigrant may depart the country. Authorities did not enforce this law.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s borders with Ukraine and Romania remained closed or partially closed for most of the year. Moldovan citizens and permanent residents, accredited diplomats, and those with preapproved travel were permitted to enter the country during the state of emergency and there were no restrictions on departing the country.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The law does not define the concept of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and authorities do not report any official data on IDPs as such.

Nevertheless NGOs such as Promo-LEX and a 2004 Norwegian Refugee Council report estimated that approximately 130,000 persons were displaced by the 1992 conflict in Transnistria, with approximately 51,000 of them residing in government-controlled territory. IDPs may include victims of forced displacement by the Transnistrian “authorities,” former combatants, and persons who left the separatist-controlled region for political reasons.

Transnistrian “authorities” denied Moldovan veterans of the 1992 Transnistria conflict access to the region. The Moldovan Reintegration Policy Bureau noted three cases during the year in which separatist “authorities” issued three-year expulsion orders for veterans whose permanent domicile was located in separatist-controlled territory.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Refoulement: On July 15, the Buiucani branch of the Chisinau Court found former Security and Information Service director Vasile Botnari guilty of the illegal deportation of seven Turkish teachers (the verdict was sealed until September). The teachers had been forcibly returned to Turkey in 2018, where they were imprisoned. The court ordered Botnari pay a fine of 88,000 lei ($5,300) and he was given a five-year ban on holding public office. Botnari was also ordered to reimburse the state 125,000 euros ($150,000) for damages to the teachers’ families as a result of a 2019 ECHR ruling that their human rights had been violated. Botnari was also ordered to pay the 348,432 lei ($21,000) cost of renting the plane used for the deportation. Prosecutors initially requested a three-year prison sentence for Botnari but did not appeal the court’s July 15 ruling. Opposition parties criticized the judiciary for the unusually lenient sentence and called on prosecutors to reopen the investigation. Prosecutions against the former deputy head of the intelligence service and the head of the Bureau for Migration and Asylum were dropped during the year.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The process for obtaining formal refugee status was slow, but conducted in line with international and European standards. Authorities issued refugees identity cards valid indefinitely; beneficiaries of humanitarian protection received identification documents valid for three years; and asylum seekers received temporary identification cards. UNHCR provided refugees financial support. A temporary accommodation center administered by the Bureau of Migration and Asylum was available for asylum seekers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government halted deportations of asylum seekers but did not formally extend their visas. The law does not allow unemployed asylum seekers to purchase state health insurance, but asylum seekers still had access to health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country has a policy of presumptive denial of asylum seekers from Ukraine displaced by the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. The country had previously accepted Ukrainian asylum seekers but determined that Ukraine’s process for protecting and resettling internally displaced persons was sufficient. The majority of displaced Ukrainians preferred to transit Moldova, then seek asylum in the EU.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately 246 persons registered in the national asylum system as of July.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, there were 1,899 persons registered as stateless in the country, 73 percent of whom resided in Transnistria. According to immigration law experts, the majority of stateless persons fell into one of two categories: 1) former citizens of the Soviet Union residing in Moldova who are ineligible for Moldovan citizenship and do not hold another country’s citizenship; and 2) Moldovan citizens who renounced their citizenship in order to acquire another citizenship and have not notified Moldovan authorities of any subsequent acquisition of citizenship. Experts assessed that most persons in the second category, especially Transnistria residents, are not actually stateless and have mostly acquired Russian citizenship or another nationality. There were 7,956 Moldovan citizens who did not possess any valid documentation of Moldovan citizenship but who did have Soviet passports endorsed by the Moldovan Public Services Agency, which serve as a prima facie proof of citizenship. There were an additional 1,547 persons of indeterminate citizenship status.

Stateless persons and refugees may gain citizenship through naturalization. The law allows a refugee or stateless person who has resided legally in the country for eight years to seek citizenship. The family reunion process for naturalized refugees was burdensome. The government issued residence permits for a period of up to one year to stateless persons temporarily residing in the country at a cost ranging from approximately 400 to 1,280 lei ($23.40 to $75) depending on the speed of service, with higher prices for expedited processing. Trafficking victims received residence permits free of charge.

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