Transnistria: Discussion as a crime?
The Apriori Information and Legal Center in Transnistria can be shut down for “political activities”. But so far, local de-facto authorities failed to explain what exactly is the problem.
For more than ten years, the Apriori Information and Legal Center in Tiraspol has been providing free legal advice and information to individuals, free time initiatives and other organizations. It’s affiliated independent Civic Club # 19 regularly hosts cultural events, concerts, theater performances, screenings of films and documentaries, exhibitions and debates. Gradually, thanks to the hard work of several active people, it grew into a safe haven for young Transnistrians, where they can discuss any topic freely, without prejudice or discrimination.
People in Need assisted in establishing Club # 19 in Tiraspol and has been long and successfully collaborating with the Apriori Center. Therefore we are deeply concerned about the latest development in Transnistria: first, in spring 2018, new, vaguely and imprecisely formulated law on non-profit organizations was adopted; second, as a result of this law, the Apriori Center is now under the threat of being repealed.
The NGO law, which came into force in May 2018, criminalizes nonprofit nongovernmental organizations that engage in political activities and receive financial donations from abroad. The problematic aspect is that the law does not define the boundaries of the “political activity” and therefore it remains unclear and left to the authorities’ subjective will, what activity is already violating the law, and what is still acceptable.
In the case of Apriori, two specific activities have been pointed out by the authorities as violating the law: the Free Press Week’s exhibition about independent media and journalism in Transnistria, and the discussion about the electoral system in Transnistria.
First, at the end of last year, Apriori received a request from the Transnistrian Prosecutor's Office to provide all the documents about its activities and fundings for years 2018 and 2017. “We have provided these documents in a few days,” says Evgeniy Dunaev from the Apriori Center. “Additionally, they have requested our documentation for 2016. We have provided that as well. After several days of waiting, on December 18 we have received the verdict: following the inspection in November and December 2018, the Prosecutor’s Office came to a conclusion that the Apriori Center violated the NGO law by using foreign money to engage in political activities.”
According to the document, Apriori must "stop violating the law immediately" - it does not, however, specify how. If they fail to do so, their operation will be suspended. Yevgeniy Dunaev specified that the Prosecutor's Office acknowledges that Apriori received the last foreign funding in 2017, more than a year before the adoption of the law.
This targeted attack on the educational and cultural activities of the Apriori Center is the first case of expected systematic restrictions of the activities of non-profit organizations and persecution of civil society in Transnistria under the new NGO law. The law was criticized also by Michel Frost, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. "The work of non-governmental organizations includes advocacy and the protection of rights, which can be understood as a political activity. But how could you then protect the rights of Roma or women? That's impossible," he said.
People in Need expresses full support to the Apriori Information and Legal Center and to all the people who contribute to its activities, helping to build a space of freedom and creativity in the internationally unrecognized region of Moldova. We are convinced that the discussion is not a crime. Freedom of thought, belief and expression are one of the fundamental human rights and their restrictions or even punishment by law is unacceptable.
We urge the de facto authorities of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic to protect basic human rights and freedoms, in accordance with norms and aims of international law, instead of actively acting against them.