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Armenian Activists Urge Russia To Help Free Moldovan Journalist

Ernest Vardanean

Ernest Vardanean

A group of bloggers and rights activists have picketed the Russian Embassy in Yerevan to urge Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to seek the release of an Armenian-born journalist jailed in Moldova's Transdniester region, RFE/RL's Armenian and Moldovan services report.

Ernest Vardanean, a 33-year-old stringer for the news agency Novy Region 2, is accused of spying for Moldova and could be sentenced to between 12 and 20 years in prison if found guilty.

The Moldovan government, the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have urged authorities in the breakaway region of Transdniester to release Vardanean from detention and ensure he receives a fair trial.

Numerous human rights and journalists' associations, including Reporters Without Borders, have also condemned his arrest.

"I consider [Vardanean's] arrest a blatant violation of freedom of speech," said Mikael Danielian, the chairman of the Armenian Helsinki Association, at the Yerevan protest.

The protesters gave embassy officials a letter to Medvedev urging him to use Moscow's strong influence on Transdniestrian authorities to ensure they respect due process in the case. Russia has troops stationed in Transdniester.

The journalist's wife, Irina, also appealed to Medvedev earlier this month. She told RFE/RL on May 3 that intervention by Moscow is the best hope for resolving her husband's case.

The Transdniester region -- which is mainly populated by ethnic Russians and Ukrainians -- broke away from Moldova in 1990 and has been de facto independent since the end of a short war against Moldovan forces in 1992. Its independence is not recognized by any countries.