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Republic of Moldova: Vlad Filat and Grigore Petrenco entitled to fair trials free from political interference

On his return from Chisinau, Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC), Chairperson of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) reported on his meetings of 21 December 2015 with Vlad Filat, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova, and Grigore Petrenco, former PACE member, to look into their detention conditions in Prison 13 (*).

“I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to the Moldovan authorities for providing me with unrestricted access to the detainees, the prison facilities and the cells, and for their open and frank discussions. During this two-day visit, I also had extensive talks with Mr Filat’s and Mr Petrenco’s lawyers, the prosecutors, the Minister of Justice and the prison administration, the Ombudsman, the leaders of the main political parties, the Moldovan delegation to PACE and the Speaker of the Parliament, representatives of the civil society, NGOs and international organisations.

Prison 13 is an overcrowded detention facility with poor sanitary and hygiene conditions that ought to be closed down, as the Moldovan Ombudsman recently stated. Mr Filat and Mr Petrenco are, like other detainees, subject to detention conditions which are far from complying with international standards, despite efforts made by the authorities. I discussed the particular difficulties faced by Mr Filat and Mr Petrenco with the Minister of Justice and the prison governor. I welcome the readiness of the Minister to address these concerns in the short term, which could also help to ease the day-to-day life of all pre-trial detainees (such as weekly phone calls or access to lawyers), and avoid undue restrictions to the legislation in force.

Justice must be done - and seen to be done - regardless of political affiliation. In the current context, I am concerned about serious and widely-shared allegations that state institutions, including the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, are controlled by an oligarch - and that judicial decisions could appear as politically motivated. Such allegations have a serious impact on people’s confidence in fair and unselective judicial procedures. This is even truer when politicians are being prosecuted at a very critical moment: following the dismissal of the government on 29 October 2015 the country is striving for political stability and properly functioning democratic institutions, free from undue political interference.

I therefore urge the authorities to provide every possible procedural guarantee to ensure respect of the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial, which are cornerstones in democracies based on the rule of law. I should also stress that pre-trail detention must only be used as a last resort, when there are no alternatives. The decision to extend pre-trail detention must be examined in concreto and should, by no means, be used as a punitive measure to silence critical voices.

The Assembly will continue to pay particular attention to the cases of Mr Filat and Mr Petrenco. I encourage the Moldovan authorities to rebuild trust in the judicial system, remove the systemic shortcomings in the judiciary, implement plans to reform the penitentiary system and modernize prisons, including the construction of a new detention facility to replace Prison 13.”

(*) Mr Petrenco has been detained since 6 September 2015 and is charged, e.g. with taking over the leadership and active participation in mass disorders and incitement to violence following a protest organized in front of the Prosecutor General’s office. Mr Filat was placed in pre-trial detention on 16 October 2015 on grounds of passive corruption and traffic of influence.