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.