Moldovan activists decry worsening conditions for civil society and journalists
On 3rd March 2017, the Moldovan National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum published a statement of concern over the worsening situation for civil society organisations and independent media operating the country. The statement highlighted some of the methods being used by the authorities to undermine the sectors' credibility. The Platform also noted an increasing number of cases wherein independent media representatives have been intimidated and harassed by public officials. In January 2017, for example, a criminal case was opened against Mariana Rata, a journalist at the Centre for Investigative Journalism, in which officials accused Rata of investigating personal information about a public servant accused of corruption. At a press conference on Rata's case, Nadejda Hriptievschi, an expert at the Legal Resources Centre, stated:
"We are witnessing several attacks over investigative journalism and that worries us very much because a society is not democratic without strong and professional media."
In addition to censure of journalists, some civil society organisations and media outlets have been labelled as "undesirable," by the authorities, and have thus been excluded from any dialogue or platform for dialogue with the government.
In a positive development, and after several years of advocating for legislation that would help civil society to be more financially sustainable and less dependent on foreign donors, the 'Two Percent' law has come into effect. From January 2017, Moldovan taxpayers can allocate two percent of their income to an NGO or religious organisation of their choosing. Though more than 400 NGOs will benefit from this new two percent tax law, there are several foundations and institutions with connections to politicians and officials accused of corruption that have also registered as potential beneficiaries.
In a separate development, on 28th February 2017, the National NGO Council organised a workshop on the Code of Ethics for NGOs, which was approved at a 2008 NGO Forum in Moldova. The Code seeks to improve the sector's operations and transparency. Civil society in the Republic of Moldova has grown substantially and developed several platforms to cooperate across the sector and advocate more effectively with the government. In addition, civil society has made efforts to improve its image among the wider public.
In November 2016, the National Anti-Corruption Centre, which reports directly to the Moldovan Parliament, released its draft of the National Strategy for Integrity and Anti-Corruption 2017 - 2020. In February 2017, a new amendment was added to the Strategy, purportedly to increase the accountability and independence of NGOs and media outlets, some of which currently lack public trust, as well as financial and political independence. The Centre asserts that the proposed amendment will promote higher standards of ethics and integrity among civil society organisations and independent media outlets. However, civil society organisations believe that there may be other motives behind it, as the amendment directly targets NGOs and media outlets, and therefore, they have petitioned for the amendment to be excluded from the Strategy.
The right to peaceful assembly is protected by the Moldovan constitution; however, some protests and demonstrations have been met with force, including arrests and detentions at post-election protests, as well as violent provocations during Moldova's annual Pride March. The number of peaceful assemblies has grown in the past few years, as citizens mobilise to express frustration over major corruption scandals and economic troubles that have hit Moldovans hard. In February 2017, hundreds of people rallied in the capital, Chisinau, to show solidarity with anti-corruption protesters in neighbouring Romania. The protest was organised by the Dignity and Truth Platform with slogans and signs expressing similar sentiments as their neighbour to the west, for instance "Two States, Same Thieves".
In February 2017, several peaceful protests took place in Chisinau over the draft law on fiscal amnesty and capital liberalisation. According to Moldovan experts, the draft legislation lacks a clear mechanism for implementation and could potentially increase the level of corruption and tax evasion in the country. In response to domestic and international pressure, parliament withdrew the draft law from consideration.