The government response to COVID-19 raised human rights concerns, including in relation to the right to health and freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and movement. No progress was made in addressing systemic torture and other ill-treatment. A new NGO law passed following civil society input. Fair trial concerns remained.
Moldova avoided political turbulence, unlike previous years, although there was slowly widening popular discontent and regular peaceful protest throughout the year.
A three-month state of emergency effective from March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, imposed restrictions on certain rights, including to freedom of movement, education (for example, remote schooling requirements were not affordable for all families) and peaceful assembly. During that period, Moldova derogated from these obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. The measures also adversely impacted the economy and standard of living.
In July, President Igor Dodon met the de facto leader of the breakaway Transdniestria region, Vadim Krasnoselskiy, although no progress towards resolution of the 30-year-old frozen conflict was reported.
Right to health
Measures enacted to confront the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the reduction of some other medical provision and the temporary suspension of non-emergency services. Despite these measures, the ensuing strain on the health care system left health workers particularly vulnerable, reportedly suffering from a shortage of effective PPE and a high infection rate. However, few if any health workers agreed to speak of these issues on or off the record, for fear of reprisals.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the de facto authorities in Transdniestria introduced restrictions on travel from Moldovan government-controlled territory for individuals without local “passports”. While wide-ranging exceptions were made, this measure expressly targeted health workers residing in Transdniestria and working across the Dniester river who consequently were forced to choose on which side of the conflict line to live and work. This combined with the general shortage of medical personnel, reduced medical provision for the local population.
Torture and other ill-treatment
No progress was made compared to previous years in addressing systemic problems behind torture and other ill-treatment, and impunity for perpetrators prevailed. Torture survivors and victims’ families remained unable to access full and effective reparation. The number of allegations, independently reported and officially registered, remained broadly the same year on year.
Conditions in penitentiary institutions, including overcrowding and inadequate provision of health care, drew continuing criticism. The lack of effective necessary services and equipment to establish a diagnosis when a detainee is ill, and denial of transfer to civil medical institutions for necessary treatment, remained a chronic problem. This became more apparent in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, with hundreds of confirmed cases among prison staff and inmates.
Freedom of expression
Media remained generally pluralist but heavily dependent on private sponsorship which typically has clear political leanings. Libel litigation in civil proceedings remained an instrument of pressure on independent media outlets because of taxing legal costs.
In March, the official media regulator mandated that, with immediate effect and throughout the emergency period, media presenters and commentators “waive their personal opinion” regarding COVID-19 and rely exclusively on official information and that of the WHO. The ensuing public resentment forced the regulator to promptly reverse this decision.
Freedom of assembly
With street protests regularly occurring throughout the year, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly was generally respected. However, on 16 July, police in the capital, Chisinau, used tear gas to disperse a peaceful gathering of several dozen people. The police detained and later released without charge nine individuals.
In August, the mayor of Chisinau prohibited agricultural vehicles to be used in protests after some demonstrators used these to travel to a protest. Protest organizers challenged the decree in court; its outcome was still pending at year’s end.
Freedom of association
A much-delayed NGO law was adopted by Parliament in June, reflecting the draft bill widely discussed and agreed with civil society representatives in previous years. The law clarified and streamlined provisions regarding NGO funding and reporting. A proposal to ban election monitoring by foreign-funded NGOs was not included, nor an earlier proposal to require NGO leaders and staff to publish their annual income declarations.
Fair trial concerns remained. In February, the Prosecutor General acknowledged the political motivation behind a prosecution by his predecessor, and announced a review of 38 criminal cases. By December, in none of these cases had the conviction been quashed or criminal proceedings terminated. The most high-profile among them was the case against Veaceslav Platon, sentenced to 18 years in 2017 for fraud. In May, the Prosecutor General announced that the evidence against him had been fabricated, and Veaceslav Platon was released the following month pending further investigation and re-trial. However, the review of the 38 cases raised concerns over selective justice, including the lack of clear criteria supporting the choice of cases.
The investigation against officials allegedly responsible for the unlawful detention and forcible return of seven Turkish nationals to Turkey in 2018 was regarded as classified. Following public pressure, however, in September the Prosecutor General revealed that one of the officials had been convicted and fined in July. The court decision was not published officially but leaked to the press.
Freedom of movement
In March, Moldovan citizens returning from abroad were obliged to purchase compulsory health insurance within 72 hours of their return. The measure remained in place until the state of emergency was lifted, despite a conclusion in April by the Council for Equality that the measure was discriminatory as it effectively made return conditional on the ability to pay and was applied differently in practice to those returning by air and overland. No information on the implementation of the measure was made public.