Parliamentary elections will be held in Moldova on 24th February 2019. Within this context, during the last months, independent civil society organisations in Moldova have ringed an alarm about the pressures they are facing from different political actors.
Promo-LEX finds unfounded the accusations of the Democratic Party of Moldova against the Promo-LEX Observation Mission. Link: https://t.co/8Sh70Sm1Qm— Promo-LEX (@promolex) December 30, 2018
Parliamentary elections will be held in Moldova on 24th February 2019. Within this context, during the last few months, independent civil society organisations in Moldova have ringed the alarm about the pressures they are facing from different political actors. For example, Promo-LEX Association, an organisation working to promote democratic values, has been subjected to pressure from political actors after publishing reports documenting irregularities surrounding the electoral campaign. The organisation had published four reports where they highlighted several irregularities, including, the rapid approval of the consultative referendum without public consultation, the abusive use of administrative resources by some political parties, the lack of proper implementation of the electoral legal framework, and differences about voters data.
As a result of these activities, the organisation has been subject to denigrating attacks. For example, the Democratic Party of Moldova, claimed the results of the report as “untrue, unverified” information. In addition, the party stated that the report reached "unreasonable conclusions..., based solely on the views of the authors of the reports, as well as a set of conclusions that go beyond the monitoring mission". Harsh accusations against Promo-LEX were also made by the leaders of the Shor Political Party.
Promo-LEX responded to the accusations by saying:
"Promo-LEX Observation Mission is not a political opponent of the competitors involved in the electoral process, it is not an investigative body and does not assume the express obligation to prove the observed findings. However, observers’ reports are, as far as possible, accompanied by official information and other evidence, including photo and video recordings, which may only be made available to law enforcement authorities on the basis of appropriate requests and, in no case, shall it be provided to electoral competitors."
The Coalition for Free and Fair Elections also published a declaration to support the organisation and stated that "during several electoral campaigns at different levels, which they have monitored in the country and abroad, the experts of the observation mission have demonstrated that they have the necessary qualifications in the field of election monitoring".
On 7th February 2019, the organisation published its fourth report, during which they reported that acts of intimidation against members of the organisation continue to occur.
On 20th December 2018, a protest took place in Bălți, a city in the North of the Republic of Moldova. Hundreds of people, including many state employees and students gathered to express dissatisfaction with local authorities. Protesters gathered in front of the City Hall during the debate of the city's budget for 2019. On his Facebook page, mayor Nicolae Grigorişin accused members of the Democratic Party of Moldova of organising the demonstration. The party's spokesperson Vitalie Gamurari denied the accusation.
On 11th February 2019, several representatives and supporters of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) organised a protest in front of the headquarters of the Central Electoral Commission. Party supporters accuse government authorities of attempting to remove the party from the competition for parliamentary elections.
On 29th January 2019, Promo-LEX Association called on electoral candidates and politicians to avoid speeches that promote hatred and intolerance in society. The organisation stated that their experience of monitoring previous electoral campaigns has shown that "discourse based on various forms of intolerance becomes a tool that is increasingly used in electoral processes in Moldova". The organisation remarked that even though they believe freedom of expression is a fundamental pillar for any democratic state:
"Promoting a balanced, non-violent and respect-based language will not only enhance the quality of political discourse in the electoral campaign but will offer voters the opportunity to focus their attention on issues in society rather than on hate or discrimination messages."
Similarly, media organisations issued a statement condemning harmful speech against journalists. For example, it was reported that PLDM MP Maria Ciobanu, wrote a Facebook post about the opinions of journalist Victor Nichitus, staying: ‘I feel like smashing his head in.’
With a few exceptions, the freedom of association is well regulated and well respected in Moldova.
Freedom of association in the Republic of Moldova is regulated by the Law on Nongovernmental Associations, which was amended in 2007 to harmonise national rules with international standards on the development of NGOs. According to current legislation, a non-profit organisation can be created by a minimum of two individuals or legal entities. Information on the regulation of NGOs is also publicly available and the web portal of the Ministry of Justice has a special page dedicated to the associative sector where one can find both legislation regulating this field and models of statute necessary for the registration process of an NGO. Most representatives of non-governmental organisations appreciate the role played by the Ministry of Justice in the regulation of the sector. However, there are certain circumstances in which registration procedures are hampered by other public or private institutions, including the Tax Inspectorate, Ministry of Finance or banks. At the beginning of 2016, Moldova changed the procedure for opening a bank account, making it more difficult for some NGOs to open an account and negatively affecting their ability to receive funds from international donors. Civil society has also highlighted that unregistered, informal groups are not officially recognised or included in the legislation regulating non-profits. Consequently, they cannot compete with registered NGOs for funding for their initiatives. Additionally, most donors prefer to fund well-established, registered NGOs.
With the exception of protests in Transnistria, it is relatively easy for people to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Moldova. Approval for protests is usually issued within 2-3 days, and the authorities must ensure the safety of those protesting.
It is relatively easy to organise and conduct a protest in support of most causes, even political ones - with the notable exception of protests in Transnistria. While freedom of assembly is guaranteed by law, in the past there have been situations in which this right was obstructed by the government authorities, for instance during the 'Twitter revolution' in April, 2009. There are signs of improvement however, and in the last two years several large scale protests - some of them anti-government - we successfully and peacefully held. Not all protests are carried off peacefully and on two occassions in January and April 2016 some protestors have used violence, resulting in the injury of several policemen. Mostly, civil society appreciates the police's neutrality during protests. On 22 May 2016, when there was a protest to raise awareness regarding the rights of sexual minorities (Fearless), the police played an important role in preventing possible violence between protestors and counter demonstrators. Although authorisation to hold a protest is required, it is usually issued within 2-3 days, and the authorities must ensure the safety of those protesting.
Free expression is generally respected although a politicised media sector undermines this to some extent. A proposed law to regulate cyberspace could allow authorities to block websites and monitor users' personal content.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed by law although much of Moldova's media is either politically controlled or used for political purposes. Additionally, independent media has restricted access to advertising revenue and is consequently financed mostly from external programmes. Access to public information is also regulated by law and in 2015 a platform was launched allowing the public to access data on the founders of Moldovan companies (www.date.gov.md). Civil society welcomed the new platform as a useful tool for monitoring private sector accountability. In March 2016, the Ministry of Internal Affairs initiated a bill designed to regulate the online public space in order to combat pornography and terrorism. The initiative, still under debate, has been criticised by civil society for potentially granting the investigating authority the right to block sites and check personal message. Discriminatory speeches are periodically documented - most are made by religious groups demanding the repeal the Law on Equal Opportunities. Freedom of expression is under particular pressure in the Transnistrian region, where Moldovan government authorities do not exercise control.