Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
While the law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, there were allegations that authorities did not always respect this right. Journalists were subjected to harassment, intimidation, threats, physical assaults, and politicized prosecutions, particularly around the February parliamentary election and during the constitutional crisis in June. Concentration of ownership of major media outlets in the hands of a few political figures and oligarchs further limited the independence of the press. According to media NGOs and journalists, the incidence of intimidation decreased following the inauguration of the Sandu government.
Freedom of Expression: 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.
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.
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. Journalists were blocked from covering certain political events, including Chisinau City Council meetings; the inauguration ceremony for Gagauzia governor Irina Vlah; and rallies by the Shor Party.
On February 19, authorities prohibited the entry into the country of crews from Russia’s NTV and Rossiya-1 television channels.
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.” The Transnistrian “Supreme Soviet” passed a law restricting access of journalists to the institution’s plenary sessions.
Violence and Harassment: There were multiple reports of political and business interests using violence and intimidation against members of the media. During protests organized by the then-ruling Democratic Party on June 7-9, participants, including the bodyguards of party leaders, pushed, struck, and verbally threatened journalists covering the events.
In October 2018 the investigative journalism news portal RISE.md reported that law enforcement agents followed one of its journalists, Liuba Sevciuc, after she published an article on September 5 about vacation properties owned by Democratic Party leader Vlad Plahotniuc.
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.
In Transnistria, journalists avoided criticizing separatist officials’ goal of independence or their “foreign policy” to avoid official reprisals.
Libel/Slander Laws: Some newspapers practiced self-censorship and avoided controversial issues due to concerns that government officials and other public figures could use defamation laws to retaliate against critical news reports.
On March 29, Transnistrian leader Vadim Krasnoselsky approved changes to the “criminal code” criminalizing public insults of the region’s leader, which may be punished by a fine of 5,280 lei ($300) or up to five years in prison. On August 8, blogger Tatiana Belova and her partner disappeared from their home; Belova’s friends believed she was arrested for insulting Krasnoselsky on social networks. Transnistrian officials have not confirmed Belova’s arrest, but intermediaries have informed human rights NGO Promo-Lex that she is in prison in Transnistria. No public information has been available about the case since August. According to Promo-Lex, Belova refused Promo-Lex representation in the Transnistrian court.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
Latin-script schools in Transnistria continued to be a matter of dispute between the Moldovan authorities and the de facto Transnistrian authorities, although a formal agreement was signed to reduce the rent paid by Moldovan authorities operating Latin-script schools in Transnistria. On September 17 the European Court for Human Rights ruled in the case Iovcev and others v. Republic of Moldova and Russia, concerning pressure by the unrecognized Transnistrian authorities on the four Latin Script Schools in Transnistria in 2013-14. The court found Russia guilty of violating the right to education, right to liberty and security, and right to private and family life and ordered Russia to pay 90,000 euros ($99,000) in damages plus legal expenses.
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The law provides for freedom of assembly. While the government usually respected this right, there were several exceptions.
Authorities in Transnistria continued to restrict freedom of assembly and were reluctant to issue permits for public protests organized by the opposition. The chairman of the Transnistrian Communist Party, Oleg Horjan, has been imprisoned since June 2018 following an unauthorized protest (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). As of November 7, the case was ongoing in court.
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.
Separatist authorities in Transnistria 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 harassment, including visits from security officials. Authorities strictly prohibited organizations favoring reintegration with the rest of the country.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions.
In-country movement: Transnistrian authorities imposed some restrictions on travel by Moldovan officials to and from the region for official purposes. Chisinau and Tiraspol reached an agreement to lift restrictions on personal travel by government officials and Transnistrian separatist “officials” to and from the region in August. In December 2018, Transnistrian authorities simplified travel procedures for officials of foreign embassies accredited to Moldova and no longer require them to submit pretravel notification letters.
Foreign Travel: Although citizens generally may depart from and return to the country freely, there were some limitations on emigration. Before emigrating, the law requires individuals to settle 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.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: 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: In June the European Court of Human Rights fined the country 125,000 euros ($137,500) for forcibly returning seven Turkish educators to Turkey in 2018, where they were imprisoned on unclear charges by Turkish authorities. The ruling noted the transfer of Turkish citizens undermined domestic and international law and that five of the seven were asylum applicants who had been unlawfully deprived of their freedom. A former deputy head of the Moldovan Intelligence Service and the head of the Moldovan Bureau for Migration and Asylum were put under criminal investigation following the ECHR ruling.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system for protecting refugees. Obtaining formal refugee status was slow and burdensome. 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 logistical, housing, medical and financial support. A temporary accommodation center administered by the Bureau of Migration and Asylum was available for asylum seekers.
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 provided humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of July, there were 257 beneficiaries of humanitarian protection registered in the national asylum system.
There were approximately 1,900 stateless persons in the country, most of whom resided in Transnistria. The largest numbers of stateless persons were ethnic Ukrainians, Russians, Romanians, and Turks. It was estimated that there were an additional 1,734 persons of indeterminate citizenship status and 8,240 former citizens of the Soviet Union who have not sought Moldovan citizenship or documentation thereof.
Stateless persons and refugees may gain citizenship through naturalization. The law allows a 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 500 to 1,400 lei ($28.40 to $80) depending on the urgency of the permit. Trafficking victims received residence permits free of charge.