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Wife Of Jailed Transdniester Journalist Worried About His Condition

Ernest Vardanean was arrested on April 7 on charges of high treason and espionage.
Ernest Vardanean was arrested on April 7 on charges of high treason and espionage.
The wife of imprisoned independent journalist Ernest Vardanean says her husband looked tired and depressed after hours of interrogation while jailed in Moldova's separatist Transdniester region, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

Irina Vardanean told RFE/RL on May 3 that she was allowed the see her husband in a Tiraspol jail for the second time since he was arrested on April 7 on charges of high treason and espionage.

"I saw him at 10 p.m. [last week] at the headquarters of the local 'Security Ministry' after a long day of interrogations," she said. "He looked very tired and depressed. They may be pressuring him to confess to things he never did."

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

"We share the strong concerns of the EU and other heads of missions in Moldova regarding the denial of Mr. Vardanean's legal rights and urge that due process be respected," said a U.S. Embassy statement released at the end of April.

Transdniester authorities have thus far denied Vardanean's request to have a lawyer.

"The Moldovan lawyer we proposed was rejected by the 'Security Ministry' on the grounds that there are state secrets involved," Irina Vardanean said.

She thinks intervention by Russian officials is the best hope for her husband's case and has written a letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Vardanean said she is also trying to get a lawyer from Russia.

"Everybody knows that Russia has a great influence on the Transdniestrian leadership, but I would not be surprised if they reject a Russian lawyer as well," she said. Russia has military forces stationed in the Transdniester region.

On May 3, International Press Freedom Day, the Moldovan Journalists Union called on Russian journalists to join in protests against Vardanean's detention.

The Moldovan nongovernmental organization Promo-Lex -- which deals with human rights issues in Transdniester -- said that arrests in the separatist region on charges of high treason are not unusual.

Ion Manole, Promo-Lex director, told RFE/RL that charges such as high treason or espionage are easy to fake and are often used as a way to intimidate people. He said at least one such arrest took place on March 19 when Ilie Cazacu was arrested in the town of Bender and charged with high treason.

Vardanean's arrest came amid intensified efforts by international mediators to relaunch the 5+2 format negotiations that seek to resolve the Transdniester conflict.

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, although it is not recognized by any countries.