Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention continued. The European Court of Human Rights found that Moldova had violated the rights of a group of Turkish citizens when its security service detained and forcibly returned them to Turkey. Media in Moldova were relatively free and pluralistic, and principally constrained by economic circumstances and potential risks associated with litigation. Concerns over judicial independence persisted.
The year was characterized by political instability. Parliamentary elections in February gave no clear advantage to any party. A fragile coalition government, led by Maia Sandu, was eventually formed in June between the pro-European ACUM bloc and the pro-Russian Socialist Party. However, it was challenged on technical grounds by the incumbent caretaker government of the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), led by Pavel Filip. This resulted in two rival governments, each challenging the other’s legitimacy. The Constitutional Court first backed the PDM then withdrew its decision, with the impasse finally resolved in favour of the coalition government. The new government instituted reforms and its promise to address corruption was instrumental to Moldova regaining access to major international credit lines. In November the coalition disintegrated and President Igor Dodon nominated Ion Chicu as the new Prime Minister. Moldova’s spending on social assistance remained among the lowest in the region.
Torture and Other Ill-treatment
Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in penitentiary institutions continued. No official statistics on reports of or investigations into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment were released by the end of the year, but NGOs and other monitors working on the issue continued to note a steady year-on-year decline in such allegations. This reflected some progress in addressing torture and other ill-treatment made in recent years, particularly after the events of 7 April 2009, when hundreds of people were subjected to arrest and beating by police in the capital Chisinau, and one protester died from injuries. However, the event’s tenth anniversary also emphasized structural issues that had not been addressed, as well as the persistent, near-total impunity for those suspected of criminal responsibility and negligible progress in terms of truth and reparation for the victims. There was still no fully independent agency specifically for the investigation of allegations of torture and other human rights violations committed by police and other law enforcement officers.
Healthcare provisions in the penitentiary system remained inadequate and insufficient. On 8 August, the Supreme Court of Justice ordered a review of the case of Serghei Cosovan, a businessman arrested in September 2017 and sentenced to seven year’s imprisonment in July 2018. Serghei Cosovan was unable to access essential health care in custody for his acute cirrhosis, and should have been released on health grounds under national law. He was eventually released on 18 November 2019, by order of Ciocana court in Chisinau.
Concerns over judicial independence persisted. The International Commission of Jurists, an international and well known NGO, published a report in March which emphasized the lack of a functionally independent judiciary in Moldova. Also, in March, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (CLAHR) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expressed concern that the independence of the judiciary was being seriously undermined in Moldova, as well as in Poland, by their current governments, and that “dismantling the independence of the judiciary and manipulating its rulings for political gains bears signs of usurpation of power by legislative and executive powers.” CLAHR appointed a rapporteur on the issue and published its introductory memorandum in October. This described the situation of the judiciary in Moldova as “struggling with far-reaching reforms for two decades” and confirmed serious concerns about the separation of powers.
On 4 December Vlad Filat, a former Prime Minister, was released from prison on parole after Chisinau Court of Appeal reduced his sentence by 709 days on account of poor conditions of detention. He had been arrested in October 2015 and sentenced to nine years in prison for abuse of office and corruption. Throughout his detention his defence had complained about discrimination and poor conditions amounting to ill-treatment, but his reduced term and early release was widely criticized as selective justice. President Igor Dodon and ex-Prime Minister Maia Sandu both denied any role in this and traded accusations of blame. On 5 December the Ministry of Justice appointed a new acting Head of the National Penitentiary System and Head of Prison #13 where Filat had been held; both promised to appeal his early release.
Refugees and Asylum-Seekers
In June the European Court of Human Rights (Ozdil and Others) found that Moldova had violated the rights to liberty, security, privacy and family life when in September 2018 its Intelligence and Security Service (SIS) detained and forcibly returned to Turkey five Turkish citizens who had been seeking asylum. The Court found in particular that arresting the applicants and extraditing them to Turkey had amounted to an extra-legal transfer which had circumvented all the guarantees offered to the applicants by domestic and international law. The five applicants, and two other Turkish nationals detained on the same day, were transferred before receiving a decision. Their families received notification that their claims had been rejected on grounds of national security only after the men had been returned to Turkey, where they were convicted of terrorism-related charges and remained in detention at the end of the year awaiting appeal hearing.
In September Olga Poalelungi, Director of the Bureau of Migration and Asylum, and SIS Deputy Director Alexandru Baltaga were both charged with exceeding authority causing grievous consequences, in connection with the forcible return of the seven Turkish nationals. Criminal proceedings were also opened against former SIS Director Vasile Botnari. They remained under travel restrictions at the end of the year while the criminal investigation was ongoing.
Freedom of Assembly
Protest rallies took place across the country of numerous occasions, proceeding peacefully in most cases.
On 20 March, several dozen protesters gathered peacefully outside Orhei Town Court. They were met by dozens of uniformed police officers guarding the entrance, some wearing helmets and other riot gear without personal identification badges. Although the standoff was peaceful, the police were seeking to disperse the crowd. They eventually resorted to the use of tear gas, clandestinely (they admitted to this later). Several of the protesters developed signs of tear gas poisoning and needed medical attention as a result. Despite calls for an investigation, none was reported by year end.
Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People
A solidarity march in support of LGBTI people took place in central Chisinau on 19 May bringing together over 300 participants. In a welcome contrast to previous years, they were effectively protected by the police and able to march the entire planned route of the rally.
On the night of 30 to 31 May, the car of human rights lawyer Doina Ioana Străisteanu was damaged by fire in a suspected arson attack, which she believed was linked to her work. For over eight years, the lawyer had cooperated closely with the NGO GENDERDOC-M Information Centre and was particularly known for defending victims of violence and discrimination among LGBTI people. During this time, she repeatedly received covert and overt threats, including a death threat in 2017, and her car had been damaged twice previously by unknown individuals. No tangible progress in the investigation of the incident was reported by the end of the year.