Moldova's Parliament has passed a sweeping law banning newspapers which"instigate territorial separatism". The ban applies to The TiraspolTimes and a number of other publications. Journalists can now beprosecuted for merely reporting the views of politicians and communityleaders who are in favor of Transdniestria's independence. . .
CHISINAU (Tiraspol Times) - According to a new bill approved byMoldova's Parliament in its first reading on 5 June, the Republic ofMoldova shall prohibit the publishing of any literature "which containslibel against the State and the people, calls to war or aggression, toethnic, racial or religious hatred, instigates to discrimination, toterritorial separatism, to public violence, as well as otherencroachments on the constitutional order."
The sweeping censorship law targets books, magazines, newspapers andother publications, including analysis and news articles publishedonline. It was presented by Moldovan Cabinet Minister Arthur Kozma,Chisinau-based news agency Infotag reported.
Under its new powers, Moldova's regime can now forcibly close downpublications and can also individually prosecute journalists who do notcomply. Ignoring the proceedings is not an option: Failure to appear ina Moldovan court, even for administrative proceedings, will beinterpreted as contempt of court which automatically triggers an arrestwarrant.
If a journalist chooses to leave the country or work abroad in orderto avoid the sanctions under the new law, he or she can be extraditedto Moldova even if the journalist's articles were not written onMoldovan soil: As a full member of Interpol, Moldova can also - at itsown discretion - submit an international arrest warrant to Interpol andhave the journalist brought back under something as basic as failure toappear in court. Other Interpol member states do not have to evaluatethe merit of the accusations but will merely arrest and extradite,while leaving the actual proceedings up to Moldovan authorities.
- "Territorial separatism" and "constitutional order"
The ban on publishing literature "which instigates to territorialseparatism [...] as well as other encroachments on the constitutionalorder" is targeted directly at newspapers which print the views of PMRgovernment officials and other advocates of independence forTransdniestria (officially, Pridnestrovie).
The already-'de facto' independent country ofTransdniestria is not a historical part of Moldova, and with itsnon-Moldovan majority it has also never belonged to any independentMoldovan state at any time in history. Following a referendum,Transdniestria's population declared independence in 1990, one yearbefore Moldova's own independence declaration of 1991. Moldova hasmaintained a territorial claim to the area ever since but has no sortof government authority over the area, nor any widespread popularsupport among the population.
Nevertheless, Transdniestria - or Transnistria, as it is known inMoldova's Romanian language - still appears as part of Moldova onMoldova's maps and in the Moldovan constitution. Moldova refuses torecognize the right to independence and self-determination of theTransdniestrian people and those in favor of independent statehood areaccused of "territorial separatism."
With the newly passed law against press freedom, it is now illegalfor newspapers and other publications to reproduce the views andopinions of "territorial separatists."
The sweeping ban also applies to a broad based definition of anysort of "other encroachments on the constitutional order." ForTransdniestrians, this phrase has ominous overtones as it reminds themof the short but brutal war which it had to fight with Moldova in 1992.Seeking to enforce its territorial claim, Moldovan president MirceaSnegur ordered tanks and other troops to cross over the Dniester riverand attack Transdniestrian territory militarily under the pretext of"establishing constitutional order."
- News about independent statehood "effectively banned"
Now entering its third year of publication, The Tiraspol Times & Weekly Reviewis among the publications whose coverage includes pro-independenceviews and news reporting and which is therefore subject to the Moldovanban.
Over the past two years, Tiraspol Times has published interviewswith Moldovan politicians opposed to Transdniestria's independence,such as President Vladimir Voronin and Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan.At the same time, it has also printed interviews with theircounterparts Igor Smirnov and Valeri Litskai, who are bothpro-Transdniestrian. Interviews with Transdniestrian leaders neverappear on Moldovan TV or in the Moldovan press.
In 2007, British publication The Economist lauded TheTiraspol Times by noting that "the news, features and analysis arebetter than anything Moldova produces in English."
Today, however, this sort of written material can not be printedlegally anymore. In order to operate without fear of domestic andinternational legal retaliation from Moldova, Tiraspol Times will nolonger be able to accurately reproduce statements from theTransdniestrian leadership as they might be interpreted by zealousMoldovan prosecutors as calls to "territorial separatism."
This effectively bans a broad range of news articles about the workof Transdniestria's local government institutions which includestatements made by government ministers and other local leadersfavorable to Transdniestria's 18 year old unrecognized statehood.
- One-sided coverage still allowed
Other features which reflect positively on Transdniestria's societycould also be interpreted by Moldova as being in breach of its new lawand therefore be grounds for prosecution. To adhere to the new law,Tiraspol Times can only legally print interviews with those opposed toindependence as well as articles which are decidedly negative on lifein Transdniestria so there is no risk of thinking they could be infavor of independence.
" - This will produce an unacceptable sort of one-sided bias whicheffectively silences the views that everyone knows are held by the vastmajority of the population in Transdniestria," says the newspaper'sJason Cooper. "Our editorial policy is to accurately report the news asit is seen from Tiraspol, and we can not do this if we are not allowedto report what some of Tiraspol's most important political leaders andcommunity leaders have to say."
The op-ed page of Tiraspol Times features both sides of the debate:Many of the more than one hundred "Opinion and Commentary" columns haveshown the pro-Moldovan, anti-independence position, even to the pointof reprinting material from Moldova's official state-controlled newsoutlet Moldpres. Other opinion columns have in the pastincluded analysis by Moldova's Dumitru Minzarari and Igor Munteanu, aswell as commentary signed by such anti-independence spokesmen as IonManole, Oazu Nantoi, Vlad Spanu, Anatol Taranu, Andrei Popov, NicuPopescu, and Igor Botan, among others.
" - Only these views will now be permitted," says Cooper. "Opposingviewpoints are no longer allowed, and publications will now have toenforce a strict sort of self-censorship in order to avoid selectiveprosecution and forced closures. Anyone who keeps publishing as beforewill run the risk of prosecution which can target not just thenewspaper but also individual journalists as well."