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Karabakh Official Pleads For Arrested Moldovan Journalist

Ernest Vardanean

Ernest Vardanean

A senior Nagorno-Karabakh official said he has asked authorities in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region to improve conditions for a local Armenian-born journalist detained there, RFE/RL's Armenian and Moldovan services report.

Ernest Vardanean, a 33-year-old freelancer 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 and could be sentenced to between 12 and 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Yuri Hayrapetian, Nagorno-Karabakh's human rights ombudsman, said in Stepanakert that Vardanean's relatives are concerned that he is sick and not being fed properly in prison. They also told him that Vardanean has been denied access to a lawyer they hired.

The Moldovan government has condemned Vardanean's arrest, as have numerous human rights and media associations, including Reporters Without Borders.

Acting 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 that he has raised concerns about the case with Transdniester's self-styled president, Igor Smirnov.

Transdniester's official news agency, Olvia Press, reported that Smirnov promised Vardanean will have "a fair trial."

Meanwhile, the journalist's parents appealed for assistance to authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, which maintains ties with Transdniester. The two self-proclaimed republics regard each other as independent states.

Vardanean was born in Gyumri, Armenia, but moved with his parents to Moldova after the massive earthquake in 1988. He has Moldovan citizenship and the unrecognized citizenship of the Transdniester region.