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DECLARATION ON THE DETERIORATING ENVIRONMENT FOR CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS AND MASS MEDIA IN THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA

Chisinau, 3 March 2017

The undersigned organizations, members of the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (hereinafter - Platform), express their concern about the environment for civil society organizations and the respect for the fundamental principles of the rule of law in the Republic of Moldova. In particular, we have observed systematic actions designed to divide and discredit civil society organizations, including by setting them against certain quasi-nongovernmental organizations. Moreover, we note a general climate of increased intimidation of the independent media by public authorities.

For this purpose, we consider it important to communicate to the general public, development partners and Moldovan state authorities the Platform’s position on some of the above-mentioned trends with a view toward discouraging them and preventing further deterioration of the situation in these areas.

 

We are increasingly witnessing representatives of the public authorities "penalizing" civil society organizations and non-affiliated media representatives for critical opinions expressed about the activities carried out by such authorities, and civil society organizations being unduly accused of promoting a "poor image" of public institutions or of promoting partisan political views. Moreover, some non-governmental organizations and media institutions have become "undesirable" according some authorities and are excluded from their dialogue with civil society. All these phenomena have taken place at the same time as representatives of the legislative, executive and judicial branches launch various initiatives proclaiming openness and cooperation with civil society in the Republic of Moldova.

 

Another worrying phenomenon observed lately has been attempts by some non-governmental organizations to promote agendas allegedly representative of civil society using various non-transparent and non-inclusive actions and approaches, utilizing and even abusing certain platforms and forums established by civil society. The most recent example of this took place on 22 February 2017, when a Civic Forum on Monitoring the Implementation of the Moldova-EU Association Agreement was organized. During this event the organizers were supposed to present three thematic reports on monitoring the implementation of the Moldova-EU Association Agreement in terms of the environment, justice and energy. CReDO (Resource Centre for Human Rights) was supposed to present its reports on the justice and energy sectors, but, regretfully, the report on justice has not been published or submitted to the Platform members so far. Moreover, the representatives of the Platform were not consulted in advance about the draft declaration on justice sector reform, which was proposed to the participants of the event for adoption, and its content did not cover many serious and evident problems in this area. In this context, the signatory members of the Platform reject any association of the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum with the opinions and presentations made by CReDO at the event dated 22 February 2017.

 

Another regrettable situation was the confusion created by the opportunity to promote Pillar VIII, dedicated to civil society and media integrity, as part of the draft of the National Integrity and Anticorruption Strategy (NIAS). This proposal was sent to the National Anticorruption Centre during the last stage of the consultation process by three civil society organizations, which argued for the need to include such provisions in the new draft NIAS. Pillar VIII promoted the idea that there were serious integrity concerns in the non-governmental sector. However, the authors of this “statist” concept referred exclusively to those non-governmental organizations playing an active civic role, omitting the vast networks of religious organizations and trade unions. It is worth mentioning that the draft NIAS prohibited any "political affiliation" by members of non-governmental organizations’ managing bodies. On the other hand, in the signatories’ opinion, the inclusion of a pillar dedicated to civil society in the draft NIAS would "relativize" public authorities’ integrity, introducing the idea of ​​the responsibility of the state in determining what kind of and how much integrity should be found in the non-governmental sector. Thus, although there is general understanding within civil society organizations about the importance of respecting the principles of integrity and transparency, standards of integrity should be subordinated to an internal process of self-regulation within the associated sector, so as not to interfere with the fundamental constitutional principles of freedom of association and freedom of opinion. Consequently, as a result of additional consultations, the National Anticorruption Centre, the author of the draft NIAS, stopped promoting Pillar VIII, a decision that we welcome. At the same time, we encourage all stakeholders to pay special attention in public debates to the importance of respecting the opinions of all participants being consulted in the spirit of constructive dialogue, and of avoiding accusatory and personalized rhetoric.

 

Additionally, we note that several incidents of direct and indirect intimidation of independent media institutions and investigative journalists were recorded recently, in the context of the continuing harmful practice of groups under the control of political oligarchs monopolizing the media. To this end, at the end of 2016 the investigative journalist Mariana Rata was called to the prosecutor’s office to answer questions about a criminal investigation. The journalist was suspected of disseminating information about the private life of a former police commissioner by publishing a journalistic investigation about his assets. Although it was clear from the start that no criminal offence was committed and the case should be dismissed, the prosecutor asked the journalist for testimony. Only after the case drew public attention was it dismissed. Another symptomatic case is that of 21 February 2017, when the weekly investigative newspaper „Ziarul de Gardă” reported the appearance of a phantom website named ziaruldegarda.com, which used the name „Ziarul de Gardă” and disseminated information written by anonymous authors or taken from other web pages. The portal resembled other anonymous websites that promote anti-opposition and pro-government content. Several civil society organizations urged the authorities to investigate this incident. The website disappeared shortly after that statement. On the other hand, over the past few months, more public institutions have unduly refused to provide journalists with information of public interest, citing the protection of personal data. In February 2017, based on the protection of personal data, all decisions from the court system webpage were anonymised, making it impossible to find judgments in high-profile cases. These are serious obstacles to investigative journalism.

 

In conclusion, we express our disappointment that the dialogue between national authorities and civil society is strongly affected by mistrust, inconsistency and harmful rhetoric. The cases in which collaboration with civil society is used by the government as a facade for legitimizing its own actions are increasing. In this respect, in their interaction with public authorities those organizations that promote a more convenient and/or closer position to the authorities and decision makers are favoured. It is important that the public authorities promote an inclusive and non-discriminatory approach in their relationship with all civil society organizations and the community of experts, including with the ones with critical voices or civil society representatives who decide to publicly express their political preferences.

 

In light of the abovementioned, the signatories to this Declaration:

1. Reiterate that, in a state based on the rule of law, civil society and the media play a key role in making public institutions transparent and accountable. It is particularly important for all civil society organizations and the media to be guided by and to respect the principles of transparency, fairness, professionalism and professional ethics in their work;

2. Call on the general public and development partners to more closely monitor, to prevent and to disavow all actions that have the effect of undermining freedom of association, freedom of opinion and expression in the Republic of Moldova;

3. Urge the Moldovan public authorities to hold an open, non-discriminatory and honest dialogue on issues of public interest involving representatives of all non-governmental organizations and media, irrespective of their expressed opinions.

 

The undersigned organizations, members of the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum:

Association for Participatory Democracy „ADEPT”

Association of Professional and Business Women from Moldova

Foreign Policy Association

Association of Independent Press

Eco-TIRAS International Environmental Association of River Keepers

BIOS

Business Consulting Institute

Independent Journalism Center

Legal Resources Centre of Moldova

National Environmental Center

Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS) “Viitorul”

Institute for Urban Development

Institute for Public Policy

Institute for European Policies and Reforms

Ecological Movement of Moldova

Promo-LEX Association

TERRA 153

Transparency International - Moldova

Union of Organizations for the Disabled of Moldova

 

The list of signatories remains open.

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