CSOs challenge unjustified restrictions on expression amid COVID-19 outbreak

On 17th March 2020,government declared a national state of emergency for 60 days following the example of several other countries in an attempt to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of emergency restricts several citizens’ rights, including freedom of assembly. 

Expression

Moldovan Civil Society united against censorship

On 24th March 2020, 10 days after the declaration of the state of emergency due to the coronavirus, the Audiovisual Council issued regulations for media service providers and distributors,and video sharing platform service providers, aimed at regulating the dissemination of information around the pandemic during the state of emergency. The regulations emphasised the need for accuracy and correctness in the information disseminated by media actors around the pandemic and its effects for the duration of the state of emergency. They also mandated the media to present only the official position of competent public authorities such as the World Health Organization and relevant government ministries, further requiring journalists and editors to avoid expressing arbitrary personal opinions.

The guidelines were however viewed by Moldovan civil society as an attempt to censor the media. In response, non-governmental organizations promoting press freedom, and members of the National Platform of the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership, sent out a public appeal to the president of the Audiovisual Council, Dragoș Vicol, urging him to revoke the regulations. They expressed concern that the regulations were adopted in violation of the legislation and severely restricted the freedom of expression of media service providers, warning that the imposition of such regulations seriously affects media pluralism in the Republic of Moldova.

The joint public appeal read in part:

“For journalists, these provisions could mean the inability to ensure diversity of opinions, violating their right to access information, and for citizens - lack of access or limited access to information and credible sources that could disseminate a different point of view from the official one”.

As a result of the reaction by civil society and media actors, on 26th March Vicol annulled the regulations citing criticism from NGOs and journalists who described the regulations as censorship, and also noting that the Code of audiovisual media services calls for “Cooperation with civil society.”

Peaceful Assembly

March 8th celebrated in Chisinau with a Solidarity March

On 8th March 2020, the 6th edition of the Solidarity March was held in Chisinau, organised by several NGOs from the Republic of Moldova fighting for women's rights, as reported by Radio Free Europe. Organizers included the Platform for Gender Equality, the OccupyGuguță community, the National Coalition "Life without violence in the family" and the GDM Center. This year's edition of the march was dedicated to supporting the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, with the theme: "At first it was violence / Violence against us / Stop the violence / Start the Convention!".

Protests cancelled due to the pandemic

On 13th March 2020, it was reported that representatives of the organizing Council of the Civic Movement "Voice of the People" postponed a protest action planned for 15th March 2020 in light of the Coronavirus epidemic. During a press conference, Andrei Bashovoi, one of the representatives of the Movement, also urged supporters of the protest to treat seriously the authorities' recommendations regarding the epidemic.

Similarly, the National Council of War Veterans announced that their protest which was also scheduled for 15th March was postponed in light of the government’s decision to ban all mass events. According to one of the veterans, they had planned to protest because despite submitting a package of documents to the government, including two bills and a package of social claims, they had so far received no response.

A representative of the National Council of war veterans said:

"In connection with the Covid-19 epidemic, we decided to come with a call to cancel this protest in the center. You are aware of everything that is happening and we are totally subject to the provisions of the government's decisions regarding meetings and demonstrations”.

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, on 8th February 2020 the veterans held a protest to promote and demand for their social rights.

Association

Civil society calls for adoption of new law on non-profits

On 3rd March 2020, over 20 non-governmental organisations made a public appeal to the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova to adopt the draft law no. 109 on non-profit organisations and urged legislators not to introduce any new amendments to the draft law which would hinder their work. The new NGO law aims to promote good practices and standards around freedom of association, in accordance with the requirements of international partners (Venice Commission and OSCE / ODIHR) and was drafted as part of the National Action Plan on the implementation of the Association Agreement with the European Union 2017-2019. The new legislative framework will simplify and remove unjustified limitations for registration of non-profit organisations and does not limit their external financing.

In 2018, there was an attempt by the authorities to impose stricter control on the NGOs benefiting from external funding, but authorities abandoned this initiative after immediate reaction by civil society.

The March 2020 public appeal by NGOs called on legislators to adopt the new law not later than the end of March 2020.