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Vardanean Jailed for 15 Years

Moldova - Ernest Vardanean confessing on Tiraspol TV, 11May2010

Moldova - Ernest Vardanean confessing on Tiraspol TV, 11May2010

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

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 Thursday.

Alexandru Postica, Vardanean's family lawyer in Chisinau who hasn't been
allowed by the Transdniester authorities to represent the journalist in court,
told RFE/RL today that the sentence can be appealed only by the lawyer assigned
to Vardeanean by Tiraspol.

But Postica said he was unsure if that lawyer would file an appeal, adding:
"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."

Vardanean's wife Irina complained in interviews with RFE/RL during the
journalist's eight month-long 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 can be defined as an attempt by Transdniester
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

The OSCE and other foreign governments earlier protested Vardanean's arrest, insisting that he be granted due process and a fair trial.

While in prison, Vardanean was shown on Transdniester television confessing to
being a Moldovan spy -- a confession family and friends said was made under

Transdniester, which broke away from Moldova in the early 1990s, is not
recognized internationally but has de facto independence.

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