CHISINAU, RFE/RL -- A court in the breakaway Transdniester region has sentenced a Moldovan journalist to 15 years in prison after finding him guilty of spying for Chisinau, RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service reports.
In a case that sparked international concern, Ernest Vardanean, 30, was arrested in April in Tiraspol on suspicion of spying for Moldova’s secret services.
He was charged with high treason, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison in the self-styled Transdniester republic.
The Tiraspol court handed down the sentence on December 16.
Alexandru Postica is Vardanean’s family lawyer in Chisinau, but hasn’t been allowed by the Transdniestrian authorities to represent the journalist in court.
He told RFE/RL today that the sentence could be appealed only by the lawyer assigned to Vardanean by Tiraspol.
But Postica said he was unsure if that lawyer would file an appeal.
“I don't think the sentence against him can be changed because Vardanean’s case is political and the so-called minister of justice in Tiraspol has indicated very clearly that he wants Vardanean to be sentenced,” Postica said.
Vardanean’s wife Irina complained in interviews with RFE/RL during the journalist's eight-month ordeal that the Tiraspol lawyer was doing little to defend her husband and was constantly avoiding her outside the court, saying he was too busy to talk to her.
Reacting to the verdict, Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Victor Osipov told RFE/RL that Vardanean’s case could be defined as an attempt by Transdniester’s politicians to undermine the central Moldovan government’s efforts to build trust and confidence between Chisinau and Tiraspol.
According to Osipov, Vardanean’s sentencing will not prevent further such efforts by Chisinau.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) mission in Chisinau said its representatives were denied access when they tried to enter the courtroom on the opening day of Vardanean’s trial in Tiraspol on November 3.
While in prison, Vardanean was shown on Transdniester television confessing to being a Moldovan spy -- a confession family and friends said was made under pressure.
Transdniester, which broke away from Moldova in the early 1990s, is not recognized internationally but has de facto independence.