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The Evidence Mounts

Hearing representatives of the Coalition-2009 for Free and Fair Elections, Amnesty International, and a few other NGOs this morning in Chisinau was a troubling experience.

It's difficult to imagine the patience and fortitude it must demand from Moldovan democracy activists to meticulously catalogue violations of the internationally accepted norms of electoral conduct, from the most minor to the grossest.

For everything matters; this is the nature of the game. You let one deviation through and you're on a slippery slope. Principles know no exceptions.

Thus you hear about voter corruption in the form of "electoral gifts" (for example, food) handed out (mostly) by the entrenched Communist Party, and insults and "coarse language" traded by candidates.

Or, more seriously, about the murky circumstances in which voter lists are drawn up. And about an appeal, which finally gave NGO monitors access to them on July 28, one day before the elections. "Not for public use," the authorities tried to argue -- unlawfully, as it turned out.

Or, again and again, how the Communist government exploits the Board of Broadcasting's authority to grant or deny licenses to put pressure on TV stations. You criticize the government, you're in trouble. Makes sense, assuming an absence of scruples, in a society where 90 percent of all inhabitants say they trust TV most for their news.

Or you hear about the increasingly aggressive campaigning on all sides, personal attacks, and a society that has effectively split into two camps -- those for the status quo and those against it. Or how the authorities are trying to hobble opposition leaders by making them suspects in wholly bogus murder investigations.

But all this, no matter how pertinent, pales to insignificance in the face of the brute facts surrounding the events of April 7 and the following days. Events that may repeat themselves, activists warn.

Amnesty International Executive Director Yevgeny Goloshapov recounts the details of the abuses the organization has documented. Amnesty has interviewed some 200 of the 655 people detained for participation in the demonstrations. All reported ill treatment at the hands of the police: Not just beaten and jailed for up to 15 days without proper representation, but also having been tortured and subjected to degrading treatment by being denied water, food, and access to toilets.

There were also four suspected deaths -- which the Amnesty representative carefully describes as "alleged" incidents. In one case, that of Valeriu Boboc, there are witnesses saying he was beaten to death by the police.

Amnesty says Moldova's prosecutor-general has refused to file charges against police officers sometimes identified by protesters by name.

Instead, the authorities are considering charging activists with criminal offenses. Amnesty says it is poised to declare the journalist Natalia Morari (editor's note: Morari now blogs for RFE/RL) and Ghenadie Brega -- both of whom organized a day of mourning in the wake of April 7 -- as well as independent-minded Chisinau Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca Moldova's first modern-day prisoners of conscience should they be jailed.

One thing that certainly appears to be at stake in this election is national reconciliation.

Ahto Lobjakas is an RFE/RL correspondent who is in Chisinau for the elections as a guest of the Open Society Foundation