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 during the year.

The government made no progress in holding officials accountable for the security force crackdown on postelection demonstrations in 2009 that resulted in three deaths (see section 1.d.).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

While the law prohibits such practices, reports continued of physical abuse and torture, mainly in detention facilities and psychiatric institutions. Cases of mistreatment in police stations and torture cases in detention facilities decreased due to a zero-tolerance policy, social campaigns promoted in law enforcement institutions and detention facilities, and more thorough monitoring by relevant international organizations and civil society. According to the human rights organization Promo-Lex, of the over 600 complaints of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment yearly received by the Prosecutor General’s Office, criminal proceedings were initiated in only 20 percent of the cases.

Under the criminal code, conviction for torture carries up to a 10-year prison sentence. Persons found guilty of torturing minors, pregnant women, or persons with disabilities or of committing acts of torture that lead to death or suicide may be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison without the possibility of amnesty. A deliberate act by a public official that leads to physical or psychological suffering is punishable by imprisonment for two to six years or a fine of 57,500 to 67,500 lei ($2,875 to $3,375) and a ban on holding public office. The law prohibits courts from granting suspended sentences to persons convicted of torture. A law on the rehabilitation of crime victims adopted in 2016 entered into force in March. Under the law, victims of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment receive free state legal aid, strengthening the procedural guarantees offered to them.

During the first half of the year, the Prosecutor General’s Office received 320 allegations of torture and mistreatment, 112 of which involved criminal police, 78 traffic police, 21 employees of the penitentiary system, and 56 other police units, including the Carabinieri (a special police force responsible for public order and infrastructure security) and customs officers. Prosecutors initiated 45 criminal cases and sent 15 cases to court. In most cases, police applied violence during detention as a means of intimidation or discrimination, to obtain evidence and confessions, and to punish alleged offenses. Most of the alleged incidents occurred on the street or in public places, followed by police stations and detention facilities. Military units registered nine cases of alleged torture, while psychiatric institutions registered three cases, and educational facilities registered eight. Most incidents involved beatings (168 allegations), followed by other methods, such as beatings using batons, water bottles, and books (89 allegations), threats or other forms of psychological abuse (33 allegations), and inhuman detention conditions (10 allegations). Despite a decrease in torture cases, psychological torture and humiliating treatment continued to be a problem in penitentiaries and psychiatric institutions. An independent assessment by local human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) determined that the decrease in torture cases was due to harsher penalties introduced into the criminal code, which served as a deterrent; more robust awareness-raising campaigns and training organized for prosecutors, judges, and police; and video surveillance equipment placed in police stations and detention facilities.

The human rights ombudsman reported that most allegations of torture and sub-standard detention conditions occurred at Penitentiary No. 13 in Chisinau, Penitentiary No. 11 in Balti, and Penitentiary No. 17 in Rezina. The ombudsman’s national anti-torture mechanism resumed its activity following the enactment of the new Law on the People’s Ombudsman adopted in 2016. During the first six months of the year, members of the national anti-torture mechanism made 14 preventative visits to prisons, pretrial detention facilities, psychiatric institutions, and psycho-neurological homes. Most of their observations concerned poor detention conditions, which in some cases contributed to inhuman and degrading treatment of inmates.

Despite a decrease in alleged torture cases, human rights experts noted that the number of cases was likely higher than reported due to individuals not reporting abuses because they lacked trust in the justice sector.

On August 26, Andrei Braguta was found dead at Penitentiary No.16 while held in pretrial detention. Prison authorities claimed Braguta died of pneumonia; however, following pressure from human rights experts, the media, and civil society, prosecutors initiated an investigation; forensic analysis indicated Braguta was beaten while in pretrial detention, directly leading to his death. According to preliminary information, while in detention, several inmates beat Braguta with the tacit approval of the prison guards, who ignored his pleas for help and medical assistance. The Prosecutor General’s Office detained five persons, including three police officers, on charges of torture, investigated an additional 10 officers suspected of mistreating detainees, and sued 13 police officers. Braguta was arrested August 15 for speeding, resisting arrest, and insulting police officers. He was then transferred several times between pretrial detention and the psychiatric ward. Braguta had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was under psychiatric monitoring since 2012.

Investigation of degrading treatment of patients in psycho-neurological institutions was deficient. In most cases, prosecutors refused to investigate complaints submitted by patients, questioning the accuracy of allegations made by persons with mental disabilities. According to the NGO Promo-Lex, most prosecutors and investigators lacked technical skills to investigate acts of violence or torture in psychiatric institutions. Another problem was the lack of a regulatory framework for the psychological assessment of victims of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment in psychiatric institutions.

According to the Moldovan Institute for Human Rights, residents of residential psychiatric facilities and psycho-neurological institutions were subject to rape, physical abuse, deprivation of liberty, and forced medication.

Legal proceedings continued in the case of a doctor at an institution in Balti arrested in 2013 for the serial rape, sexual assault, and abuse of patients. An investigation showed that the doctor performed 18 forced abortions on the victims of his sexual assaults, all patients with mental disabilities. In 2014 authorities found one of the 17 victims identified during the investigations dead; a second died under unknown circumstances that same year. The doctor remained under house arrest during the trial proceedings. In 2016 a court found the doctor guilty of numerous counts of rape and sentenced him to 13 years in prison. The defendant appealed the ruling and the case was pending at the Balti Court of Appeal at year’s end.

According to a report by the human rights NGO Promo-Lex, there was no mechanism to investigate alleged acts of torture in Transnistria. There were no criminal cases initiated for “providing statements under coercion by means of violence, humiliation, or torture” since the Transnistrian “investigation committee” was established in 2012. Promo-Lex noted that authorities perpetrated most inhuman and degrading treatment in the Transnistrian region in order to obtain self-incriminating confessions. Promo-Lex continued to receive complaints from alleged victims of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment by Transnistrian security forces.

Hazing and humiliating treatment in the de facto Transnistrian army continued during the year.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in most prisons and detention centers, including those in Transnistria, remained harsh and did not improve significantly.

Physical Conditions: Prisons and detention centers were overcrowded. Human rights NGOs noted a significant increase in arrests and a failure to apply alternative noncustodial measures, which increased overcrowding of detention facilities to a rate of 40 percent. As of January 9, the total number of prisoners and pretrial detainees was 7,656, with 5,550 inmates in prisons and 2,106 individuals in pretrial detention centers. The official maximum capacity was 6,274 inmates for prisons and 2,380 for pretrial detention centers, but human rights monitors asserted that the official maximum capacity exceeded required standards. The obsolete infrastructure in most prisons did not allow for a separation of prisoners according to minimum required standards, which led to continued violence among inmates.

During the year members of the antitorture section of the ombudsman’s office jointly with the newly created Council for Prevention of Torture conducted 51 preventive visits to 11 prisons, 32 pretrial detention facilities, four psychiatric institutions, three psycho-neurological homes, and to National Anticorruption Center. The main deficiencies found included overcrowding of prisons and detention facilities, insufficient lighting, poor sanitary conditions, failure to separate minor detainees from adults, insufficient food, deficient medical care for detainees, insufficient rooms for meetings with lawyers, and a lack of accessibility for persons with disabilities.

Penitentiary No.13 in Chisinau had the worst conditions. A number of high-profile detainees held in the penitentiary complained of detention in basement cells that did not meet national or international standards. In three cases during the year, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that detention conditions in Penitentiary No. 13 were contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. Cells were overcrowded (in some cells, up to 16 inmates were placed in an area measuring 258 square feet), unhygienic (toilets separated from the sleeping area by only a curtain; mold and dirt on the walls), and lacked ventilation, natural light, or permanent access to water for personal hygiene. Despite numerous calls from the ombudsman and international organizations to close the Penitentiary due to inhuman detention conditions, the authorities reported they were not able to find an alternative detention facility due to financial constraints.

During its 2015 visit, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted that living space frequently failed to meet the national standard of at least 43 square feet per prisoner in most of the prisons it visited. In particular, the level of overcrowding at the Chisinau and Soroca prisons reached disturbing proportions. The detention conditions in the two prisons were inadequate, with very poor states of repair and hygiene, limited access to natural light, insalubrious sanitary facilities, infestation by vermin, and worn-out and filthy mattresses, which the CPT considered inhuman and degrading treatment. The CPT also found that the prison administration made insufficient contributions to the purchase of medication and that facilities often relied on humanitarian aid and support from the inmates’ families.

The ombudsman noted that “the situation in police station detention facilities did not change during the year and was alarming”. The office reported inadequate conditions for food distribution; inadequate sanitary conditions in the showers; inadequate health-care facilities; and a lack of pillows, mattresses, and clean bed linen and clothing. Detention facilities, located mostly in the basements of police stations, generally lacked access to natural light, adequate ventilation, and sewage systems. Inmates had a daily food budget of approximately 20 lei (one dollar). Human rights NGOs also noted facility staff did not provide pretrial detainees meals on the days of their court hearings–a potentially severe problem for detainees transported long distances to stand trial, which in some cases meant they received no food for a day. Transportation conditions for pretrial detainees were also deficient.

Health care was inadequate at most penitentiaries. Government regulations require authorities to separate individuals suspected of suffering from tuberculosis from the other detainees. Authorities often co-located individuals with various other diseases with persons with an unconfirmed diagnosis of tuberculosis, potentially exposing them to infection. Penitentiaries lacked appropriate facilities for persons with disabilities, which led to inhuman and degrading treatment.

Police mistreatment of detainees remained a major problem in Transnistria. Detention conditions in the region did not improve. The report of the Transnistrian ombudsmen noted a decrease in the number of complaints received from detainees in 2016 compared with 2015, although there were no independent reports confirming this finding.

Administration: Internal investigation procedures in the penitentiary system remained weak, and detainees continued to have restricted access to complaint mechanisms. While detainees generally had the right to submit complaints to judicial authorities, some detainees reported censorship and punishment by prison personnel or other inmates before or after filing complaints.

Prisoners in the initial period of their sentences and those serving life sentences did not have the right to long-term visits. Detainees and their relatives reported a burdensome process for obtaining visit permits, which often impeded such visits. Lawyers reported continued restrictions on access to clients in Penitentiary No. 13 due to artificially imposed barriers. Authorities reportedly applied random quarantine checks on and access restrictions to the families and attorneys of persons detained in connection with high-profile bank fraud cases.

Reliable information on the administration of prisons in the Transnistria region was generally not available. Transnistrian authorities reported approximately 3,000 persons were detained in the region.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights observers, and prison officials generally allowed observers to interview inmates in private. Attempts by Amnesty International, the ombudsman, and human rights NGOs to visit detainees held in connection with the country’s bank fraud case were frequently unsuccessful.

There were no reports of any independent monitoring of detention facilities in the Transnistrian region during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but authorities sometimes failed to respect these requirements.

According to Promo-Lex reports, police routinely detained persons sought by unrecognized Transnistrian authorities and transferred them to Transnistrian law enforcement agencies without due process. The country’s courts previously ruled the 1999 agreement establishing such cooperation to be unconstitutional, but the practice continued informally.

In Transnistria, authorities reportedly engaged in the arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals with impunity. There were cases of Transnistrian authorities detaining individuals on fabricated charges without due process.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police force is the primary law enforcement body and is responsible for internal security, public order, traffic, migration, and border enforcement. It is subdivided into criminal and public order police and is subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The agencies under the ministry are the General Police Inspectorate, Border Police, the Civil Protection Service, Carabinieri, and the Bureau for Migration and Asylum. The ministry made modest progress in implementing reforms to combat abuse and corruption.

A 2016 law reformed the structure of the Prosecutor General’s Office and governs the activity of two specialized prosecution offices: the anticorruption prosecution office and the prosecutor’s office on combatting organized crime and special cases (e.g., terrorism and torture). In line with the new law, parliament changed the process for appointing the prosecutor general: the Superior Council of Prosecutors nominates candidates for prosecutor general and the president appoints one of the candidates to a single seven-year mandate. Previously, parliament had this appointment authority.

The government made no progress in holding officials accountable for the security force crackdown on postelection demonstrations in 2009 that resulted in three deaths. In April the Prosecutor General’s Office presented statistics on cases related to the 2009 riots. Prosecutors opened 71 criminal cases, including 42 for alleged torture, 19 for abuse of power, and 10 for other offenses. The Prosecutor General’s Office finalized and sent to court 28 cases against 47 police officers. As of July, the judges issued irreversible decisions in 19 cases against 30 law enforcement employees. The courts acquitted 14 police officers, issued two administrative fines, 10 suspended sentences, and two imprisonment sentences against three police officers. Eleven criminal cases against 20 law enforcement employees were still pending in courts.

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. In its 2016-17 study on procedural guarantees in the pretrial stage of the criminal process, Amnesty International found serious violations of procedural norms during police apprehension and pretrial detention. According to the study, in most cases authorities summoned persons to the police station without a citation or took them into police custody without informing them of the charges against them. In many cases, authorities forced or intimidated detained individuals into providing confessions in the absence of a lawyer. In some cases, questioning in police custody exceeded the legally allowed three hours. Other violations included purposeful altering of protocols, detention in police custody that exceeded legal time limits, and denial of the right to a lawyer or communication with relatives.

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 can also implement judicial controls in the form of house arrest or travel restrictions. The law provides safeguards against arbitrary use of pretrial detention and requires noncustodial alternatives wherever possible.

Detainees have the right to a defense attorney, but at times authorities restricted this right. In some cases, authorities did not grant detainees access to a lawyer until 24 hours after detention. The government required the local bar association to provide representation to indigent defendants, but the government frequently delayed reimbursements of legal fees. Indigent defendants often did not have adequate counsel.

Pretrial Detention: The law permits pretrial detention for up to 30 days. The courts may extend pretrial detention upon the request of prosecutors, submitted at the end of each 30-day period, for up to 12 months, depending on the severity of the charges. Pretrial detention lasting several months was common. In 2016 the Constitutional Court ruled that law enforcement agencies could not hold citizens in preventative detention for more than 30 days with a warrant or for more than 12 months cumulatively. The court also ruled that court decisions imposing 90 days of preventative arrest at a time were illegal.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides that persons who are arrested or detained are entitled to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention in court and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. Authorities sometimes failed to respect these provisions.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the law provides for an independent judiciary, instances of government officials failing to respect judicial independence remained a problem. Official pressure on judges and corruption in the justice sector continued to be serious problems. There were credible reports that local prosecutors and judges sought bribes in return for reducing charges or sentences. Judges sometimes failed to assign cases randomly or use recording equipment in the courtroom, as required by law. Very few courtrooms, however, actually used such equipment.

Selective justice was a growing problem. According to the 2016-17 Amnesty International report on the country, the case against the so-called Petrenco group (see “Political Prisoners and Detainees” below) and a number of other criminal prosecutions prompted concerns about political influence over the justice sector. The 2016 closed-door trial of former prime minister Vlad Filat, sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for passive corruption and influence peddling in connection to the 2014 bank fraud, raised questions about the impartiality of the prosecutor’s office and judiciary. Filat’s lawyers claimed there were a number of procedural violations during the trial proceedings.

According to the 2016 study Perceptions on Human Rights in Moldova conducted by the United Nations in partnership with the ombudsman’s office and the Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination and Ensure Equality, 68 percent of general public respondents believed that the right to a fair trial existed to a small extent or not at all. Many of the respondents also believed that justice was selective and affected by corruption.

During the year the public and the press did not have access to court proceedings in several high-profile cases involving a former prime minister, present and former government and city officials, and bank officials. Lawyers complained of violations of defendants’ rights to a fair public trial. In his opening statement at the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council in September, UN human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein voiced concern over the country’s prosecution and harassment of lawyers representing opposition figures, human rights defenders, and journalists. According to the commissioner, reprisals against NGOs, the removal of a judge, and arrests of public officials on allegedly fabricated charges also raised concerns.

Inspector judges are responsible for enforcing a judicial code of ethics and investigating cases of judicial misconduct or ethical breaches. They report to the Superior Council of Magistrates. In 2016 the disciplinary board of the council initiated 86 disciplinary actions and applied 13 sanctions, including six reprimands and seven warnings. Despite a significant increase in disciplinary actions following reform of the council disciplinary board, most alleged violations were dismissed.

Limitations on access to data for much of the year on the single courts national portal developed by the Ministry of Justice’s Agency for Court Administration caused discontent among media representatives and NGOs. 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 the case.

In July appeals court judge Domnica Manole was dismissed by a presidential decree following a Superior Council of Magistrates decision declaring her unfit to serve, based upon an advisory opinion by the Security and Intelligence Service (SIS). Legal experts asserted that removal of a judge based upon a SIS opinion was illegal and a signal to judges that, if they opposed the government, they could be excluded from the judiciary. On December 5, the Constitutional Court ruled the dismissal of a judge based on an SIS opinion unconstitutional, but at year’s end the Supreme Court of Justice had not ruled on Manole’s reinstatement. In 2016 Manole faced criminal prosecution on charges of issuing an illegal ruling. She had overturned a Central Electoral Commission decision to block a referendum to amend the constitution. Legal experts criticized the case against her because it was solely based on her decision later being overturned by a higher court rather than any direct evidence of corruption. The Supreme Court of Justice denied Manole’s appeal and allowed the criminal case against her to continue.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Although the law presumes the innocence of defendants in criminal cases, authorities did not always respect this presumption. On occasion, judges’ remarks jeopardized the presumption of innocence.

Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Prosecutors present cases to a judge or panel of judges. 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.

The law prescribes high standards for free legal aid attorneys and defendants’ access to attorneys. Law enforcement, however, did not always enforce these provisions. In most cases, free legal aid-provided attorneys were poorly prepared and not motivated to work on cases. Defendants can request postponement of a hearing if attorneys need additional time for preparation. Interpretation is provided upon request and was generally available. Hearings can be delayed if more time is needed to find interpreters for certain uncommon languages. Defendants may refuse to provide evidence against themselves, unless they plead guilty and their guilty plea is reviewed and endorsed by a judge.

The law provides a right to appeal convictions to a higher court on matter of facts and law.

In Transnistria, there were credible reports that authorities disregarded trial procedures and denied defendants a fair trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

On June 28, the Riscani court found Grigore Petrenco, leader of the opposition Our Home Moldova Party, and five other activists guilty of organizing and leading mass disorder accompanied by violence. The court fined the defendants and issued them suspended sentences ranging from three to four-and-a-half years. The defendants declared the ruling was illegal and politically motivated because the court had qualified participation in peaceful antigovernment protests in 2015 as mass disorder. The group appealed the ruling at the Court of Appeals and remained under judicial control at year’s end. Amnesty International Moldova stated the court ruling was biased, violated the right to a free trial, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.

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.

While the government declared a zero-tolerance policy toward torture, victims of alleged 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, but the country lacked an implementation mechanism.

At the beginning of the year, there were 1,283 cases pending against the country in the ECHR. In 2016 the court delivered 23 judgments against the state and ordered the government to pay over 187,407 euros ($225,000) in damages. The government generally complied with ECHR orders promptly. The number of complaints submitted to the ECHR decreased in comparison to previous years.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The country endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. Although the law provides for restitution of property confiscated during the successive fascist and Soviet regimes to politically repressed or exiled persons, it does not apply to property confiscated from minority groups. The government has not enacted any laws concerning restitution of communal property.

In September the Supreme Court of Justice ruled in favor of the Jewish community in dismissing an appeal by the Agency of Public Property and upholding a Court of Appeals decision which rejected the Agency’s claim on the Rabbi Tsirilson Synagogue and Magen David Yeshiva ruins, both purchased by the Jewish community in 2010.

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. There were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

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