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PACE monitors: credible reforms ‘urgently needed’ in the Republic of Moldova

Valentina Leskaj (Albania, SOC) and Ögmundur Jónasson (Iceland, UEL), co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of obligations and commitments by the Republic of Moldova, paid their first fact-finding visit to the country on 22-23 February 2016.

“During our open and frank meetings with the authorities, we were assured that the country would remain committed to fulfill its obligations and commitments towards the Council of Europe. However, various interlocutors, including representatives of civil society, expressed their deep concern, mistrust and lack of confidence in parliament, government and other state institutions, a feeling which seems to be widespread. We also learned of a widely-shared feeling that the country has been ‘captured’ by oligarchs who are perceived to control a significant number of political stakeholders and officials, including in the justice system and the economy, which could prove devastating for the democratic foundations of the country. The recent bank scandal – in which one billion dollars disappeared from the banks – adds to the frustration, if not the despair, of citizens. Some of the younger, more educated people see no other option than to leave the country to find a brighter future, which in turn would have a negative long-term impact on the Republic of Moldova.

In this adverse context, the authorities in place bear a special responsibility towards the population. The authorities are expected to deliver credible reforms that have an immediate impact on the consolidation of democratic institutions – and to seriously address the legitimate concerns of citizens about respect for the rule of law, democracy and human rights, but also transparency and accountability of politicians and officials. These issues must be addressed as a matter of priority by the authorities, should the country want to remain genuinely committed to the standards of the Council of Europe and, ultimately, to improve people’s living conditions.

We therefore encourage the authorities to adopt, and above all, implement, the announced reforms pertaining to the independence of the judiciary, the plurality and independence of the media, the fight against corruption and the consolidation of the banking system. We welcome the adoption of the long-awaited law on the Prosecutor’s Office that we expect to be fully in line with Venice Commission recommendations. We were also assured that further significant steps would be taken in the coming weeks, as the parliament has prepared legislative packages on new bank regulations and integrity laws.

We welcome the latest developments concerning the case of Grigore Petrenco, former PACE member, whose remand detention was suddenly changed to house arrest on the first day of our visit. Mr Petrenco’s release from prison is to be valued; it is however only an interim step in an ongoing procedure. We reiterate our position that Mr Petrenco, like any other citizen, should be entitled to a fair trial with full procedural guarantees. The setting up of a parliamentary sub-committee chaired by the opposition, as proposed by the Speaker of Parliament, could play a useful role in supervising the procedure.

We visited Remand Penitentiary No. 13, where we had extensive talks with the Minister of Justice and members of the prison administration, whom we thank for their openness and availability. We reviewed prison conditions in general and possible ways to improve the current situation.

We visited former Prime Minister Mr Filat, who is in pre-trial detention in Prison No. 13, and raised the issue of his detention conditions. As a Member of Parliament and chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party, he raised the issue of his limited access to his fellow party members and to the parliament. We were also informed by the General Prosecutor that, at that stage, Mr Filat’s court hearings were being held in camera. Given the fact that this prominent case relates to the greatest fraud in Moldova’s recent history, we hope that his hearings can soon be held in public, as it is in the public interest that this process is as transparent as possible. We were assured by the authorities that all necessary steps will be taken to fully investigate the bank fraud, bring all those responsible to justice and address the systemic dysfunctioning of the institutions revealed by the bank scandal.

We discussed with the Interior Minister the action undertaken during the mass protests, which has brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets in recent months, culminating in violent protests on 20 January 2016 in front of the parliament, when the government was approved, resulting in policemen and some protesters being injured. We invite police forces to further show restraint, and refrain from using excessive force. We urge that all allegations of police misconduct, not to mention allegations of fabricated evidence, are convincingly investigated in order to ensure trust in the police. We were assured that all measures would be taken to guarantee citizens’ freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. In this context, we hope that the authorities will also refrain from undertaking any legal action against protesters that could have a chilling effect on critical voices.”

During their visit, the co-rapporteurs met the Speaker of Parliament, the Ministers of Justice and Internal Affairs, the Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration as well as the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration. They met Mr Filat and Mr Petrenco’s lawyers, the director of Prison No. 13, the General Prosecutor, and the Director of the National Anti-corruption Centre. Discussions were also held with leaders of political parties, the Moldovan delegation to PACE, representatives of the international community and NGOs.