A senior official in Nagorno-Karabakh said on Tuesday that he has asked authorities in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region to improve prison conditions of a local Armenian-born journalist who is facing up to 20 years’ imprisonment on controversial charges.
Ernest Vardanean, a 33-year-old stringer for the Transdniester news agency Novy Region 2, was arrested on April 7 at his home in the unrecognized republic’s capital Tiraspol. He is accused of spying for Moldova and could be sentenced to between 12 and 20 years in prison if found guilty.
The Moldovan government has condemned Vardanean's arrest, as have numerous human rights and journalists' associations, including Reporters Without Borders. Moldovan President Mihai Ghimpu promised last week to seek international support for his release.
U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Asif J. Chaudhry told RFE/RL’s Moldovan service on April 15 that he met Transdniester’s president, Igor Smirnov, in Tiraspol the previous day and told him the U.S. government and the international community are “concerned” about the case. According to Transdniester's official news agency, Olvia Press, Smirnov promised that Vardanean will have “a fair trial.”
Meanwhile, the journalist’s parents appealed to authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, which maintain warm ties with Transdniester, for assistance. The two self-proclaimed republics regard each other as independent states.
“His relatives are concerned about the fact that he, in their words, is sick, not fed properly in the prison and denied access to a lawyer hired by them,” Yuri Hayrapetian, Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman, told a news conference in Stepanakert.
Hayrapetian said he raised the matter with an aide to his opposite number in Transdniester in a phone conversation earlier on Tuesday. “He told me that [the authorities in Tiraspol] have taken care of his nutrition, ensured medical assistance to him and given him access to several lawyers,” he said.
The Karabakh official at the same time stopped short of criticizing the case against Vardanean.