Moldova: 2018, a Challenging Year for Human Rights Defenders

The Moldovan authorities should respect, protect, promote and fulfil all human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in the country. All past and ongoing human rights violations and abuses should be addressed. The authorities should end suppression of the civic space, including attacks on human rights defenders and civil society organizations and intolerance of views perceived to be critical of the authorities.

Over the past year, Amnesty International has witnessed repeated harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and civil society organizations, including by proposing legislation aimed at imposing impermissible restrictions and burdensome reporting obligations on non-governmental organisations. The authorities have failed to address some of the systemic problems in the Moldovan criminal justice system, in particular the poor conditions of detention and access to medical care in penitentiary institutions. In breach of the principle of non-refoulement, the authorities illegally deported seven Turkish teachers without giving them a chance to challenge the decision.

Moldova is preparing for Parliamentary elections due to take place in 2019. The pre-election period offers an opportunity for political leaders to make specific commitments to respect, protect and promote economic, social and cultural rights, and to address past and ongoing violations of civil and political rights. The Moldovan authorities should also recognise the importance played by NGOs and other civil society actors in supporting the realisation of human rights for all people in Moldova without discrimination, and should publicly denounce attacks, intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, other activists and civil society organizations.

Harassment and intimidation of non-governmental organizations and journalists

Some members of the authorities continued to support legislative changes which if passed into law and implemented would undermine the independence and freedom of action of civil society organizations, particularly burdensome reporting requirements and severe penalties for non-compliance for civil society organizations that receive foreign funding. However, parliamentary consideration of the relevant draft legislation was postponed until 2019. The relevant legislation was initially proposed, in the draft Law on NGOs, in 2017, but withdrawn the same year following criticism from the human rights community in Moldova and from international partners. However, similar changes to the law have since been discussed. The right to freedom of association would be seriously curtailed in Moldova, and many non-governmental organizations would face the risk of reprisals and potentially closure, if these changes were passed.[1]

Politicians from the ruling Democratic Party and its political allies have publicly used rhetoric that sought to discredit, and in some instances harass and intimidate perceived critics, including human rights defenders, other activists, independent journalists and civil society organizations.

On 20 July, during a protest in the centre of Chisinau, Ilan Shor, the leader of the Shor Party, made statements issuing death threats against journalists who he perceived to be critical of his activities. Among others, Shor reportedly said: “I promise: each one of them will hang from the Arch. Every single one. And everyone will be able to do with them whatever they please. …. We will crush them, we will strangle them”.  However, the Moldovan authorities have failed to condemn or investigate this incident despite direct calls from civil society and journalist groups to do so and to take effective steps to protect their right to freedom of expression.[2]

On 1 November, the Moldovan parliament held a debate on the participation of school children in a public action organised by Amnesty International Moldova on 18 October in protest against the earlier refoulement of seven Turkish nationals (more details about this case are given below). Simultaneously, several pro-government TV channels, including Prime and Publika TV, tried to forcibly enter Amnesty International Moldova’s office in Chisinau without the organisation’s consent and record material for their report. In the Parliament, several members from different parties condemned human rights activism by children, and went as far as suggesting legislation that would criminalise involvement of minors in “political activities”. The Moldovan authorities should respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of everyone including for children, if they freely choose to participate in peaceful protest and to freely express their opinion.[3]

Violation of the principle of non-refoulement

In the morning of 6 September, the Moldovan Security and Intelligence Services (SIS) detained seven Turkish nationals, “Orizont” network teachers. While apprehending these individuals, the SIS officers used excessive force. In April this year, these individuals had asked for asylum in Moldova. Instead of considering promptly their applications, which pointed to the risk of serious human rights violations, including unfair trial and torture, in case of forcible return to Turkey, the Moldovan authorities apprehended and swiftly deported them to Turkey, all within the same day, without giving them a chance to challenge this decision. Upon their forcible return to Turkey, the seven individuals reported having been accused of membership of a “terrorist group”, and at the time of writing were held in pre-trial in detention.[4]

Poor detention conditions and medical care in the penitentiary system

 Two cases have highlighted in 2018 the lack of adequate medical care in custody and poor detention conditions that amount to ill-treatment. Similar cases and poor detention conditions characteristic of the Moldovan penitentiary system were reported in previous years. The authorities not only have failed to ensure access to qualified medical specialists for detainees with serious health problems but have also denied their repeated requests to seek medical care and treatment outside their detention facility.

The cases of David Davitean and Serghei Cosovan, two detainees held in Penitentiary Institutions Number 13 and 16, respectively, exemplify the challenges faced by those in detention with serious medical conditions.

David Davitean, a Moldovan national of Armenian descent, was convicted of robbery in 2017 and has repeatedly complained of ill-treatment in detention. He sent a letter to Amnesty International, describing how unidentified men entered his cell and beat him with metal pipes. Davitean also alleged that he did not receive adequate medical treatment after the beating and suspected the law enforcement officers who were guarding him of instructing doctors to not treat his injuries. Specialists from the Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery in Chisinau also recommended that Davitean should urgently receive medical treatment. This recommendation was rejected by the administration of Penitentiary Institution Number 13.

Businessman and local councillor of Codru city, Serghei Cosovan was remanded in pre-trial detention on 26 September 2017 on charges of fraud and abuse of office. While in detention, Serghei Cosovan’s pre-existing cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) worsened, resulting in repeated haemorrhages that required surgery to be stopped. On 24 April 2018, a court in Chisinau recognised the severity of his condition and changed his remand to house arrest. As Serghei Cosovan was leaving the detention centre, officers from the Police Department of Chisinau Municipality stopped and informed him he was being investigated for new fraud allegations, and placed him in a temporary detention centre for 72 hours. On 27 April, a court ordered Serghei Cosovan’s remand in pre-trial detention, ignoring his grievous health concerns. He was returned from the temporary detention centre to the pre-trial detention centre the same day. Amnesty International wrote to the General Prosecutor’s Office of Moldova on 18 July requesting comment on these cases but to date has only received a verbal reply from the Prosecutor General’s press office denying that Cosovan’s health condition was life-threatening and indicating that his placement in pre-trial detention would not be reconsidered on that basis.[5]

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

 A Pride in solidarity with the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people was held in Chisinau on 19 May 2018. About 600 participants joined the event. The police provided effective protection to the event and averted violence from a group of religious counter-protesters who assembled alongside to the march’s participants and law-enforcement officers.

The right to peaceful assembly

On 27 August the police evacuated peaceful protesters from the centre of Chisinau where they assembled to celebrate the national Independence Day. The police claimed that the rally was interrupting the official ceremony taking place at the same time.[6]

[1] For more information, see Amnesty International, “Moldova: Last-minute changes to draft law risk stifling civil society”, available at  https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur59/6920/2017/en/.

[2] For more information, in Romanian, see Amnesty International Moldova, “Declarația ONG-urilor din domeniul Drepturilor Omului privind amenințările primarului orașului Orhei”, available at http://amnesty.md/ro/media/declaratia-ong-urilor-din-domeniul-drepturilor-omului-privind-amenintarile-primarului-orasului-orhei/.

[3] For more information, in Romanian, see Amnesty International Moldova, “Activismul Civic Pe Cale De A Fi Criminalizat”, available at http://amnesty.md/ro/media/activismul-civic-pe-cale-de-a-fi-criminalizat/.

[4] For more information, see Amnesty International, “Moldova: Seven people deported to Turkey despite major human rights concerns”, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/09/moldova-seven-people-deported-to-turkey-despite-major-human-rights-concerns/.

[5] For more information about Amnesty International statements on the state of the penitentiary system in Moldova, in English and Romanian, please see Amnesty International, “Moldova: Authorities must immediately provide essential healthcare to two detainees, one of them gravely-ill”, public statement, 26 July 2018, available at https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR5988372018ENGLISH.pdf ; Amnesty International Moldova, “Administrația Națională a Penitenciarelor este obligată să asigure deținuților condiții umane de detenție, inclusiv accesul la asistență medicală calificată”, available at http://amnesty.md/ro/media/administratia-nationala-a-penitenciarelor-este-obligata-sa-asigure-detinutilor-conditii-umane-de-detentie-inclusiv-accesul-la-asistenta-medicala-calificata/.

[6] For more information, in Romanian, please see Amnesty International Moldova, “Statul Republica Moldova trebuie să se reabiliteze în fața protestatarilor pașnici după acțiunile din 27.08.2018”, available at http://amnesty.md/ro/media/statul-republica-moldova-trebuie-sa-se-reabiliteze-in-fata-protestatarilor-pasnici-dupa-actiunile-din-27-08-2018/.

Source: amnesty.md