In 2022, several Moldovan journalists were threatened with death or with physical threats for their professional activity. Although they have filed complaints with the police, and criminal investigations have been started in some cases, the cases are still inconclusive. Experts say that threatening and harassing journalists is a prelude to crimes if they are not investigated and punished.
During the paid protests by criminal politician Ilan Shor in 2022, several journalists from independent media outlets were intimidated or assaulted for filming, asking questions, and publishing reports. Reporters have also been threatened on social media, in open or private posts, with death threats or physical aggression, specifically for these reports.
For example, at the protest of November 6, 2022, ZdG reporter Anatolie Eșanu was intimidated, and verbally threatened by two men participating in the protest. “Why are you filming? Go to hell!”; “Get out of here with your camera, idiot!”. And one participant even went as far as direct threats.
Here is a short filmed dialogue:
Protester: Take this camera off, I said, or I will take you off…
Reporter ZdG: Did you come here to protest or to threaten me?
Protester: Listen, I asked you decently, but it could get worse.
Threatens reporters, having a criminal record
Later, ZdG found out that this aggressive protester is Gheorghe Golimaz, who in 2016 was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months in prison, with execution in jail for assaulting a person. “Acting with direct intent, through free access, he entered the staircase of the apartment block, where he applied to C.S. (…) openly trying to steal from him the gray artificial leather bag at the price of 350 lei, in which there was the amount of 700 lei and personal documents”, says the court decision.
Earlier, on September 30, 2022, after the publication of the video version of the ZdG investigation about the protesters paid by the Shor Party, a person posted a message with a death threat of beheading in the comments on the ZdG YouTube page. “Someone will cut off your head, I take responsibility for these words. …We will really cut off your head, from the throat,” reads that message. In this case, ZdG filed a complaint with the police, and a criminal investigation was started, but there are no results.
In another case, on an Internet page, aggressive people posted the phone numbers of ZdG reporters who worked on the investigation about the paid protesters, with hate and defamation messages. Reporter Natalia Zaharescu requested an answer from the law enforcement officers. The Minister of Internal Affairs directed the ZdG reporter’s request to the National Center for the Protection of Personal Data (CNPDC), stating that this page exposed the journalists’ personal data. For its part, CNPDC referred to the impossibility of carrying out an investigation, due to the impossibility of checking some digital elements: “There is a high probability that both those who manage the site and the technology used are outside Moldova, a fact that would lead to the impossibility of applying by the NCPPD the provisions of the Law on the protection of personal data”. We mention that the police representatives also mentioned in the case of other complaints by journalists the impossibility of checking digital threats, which would come from people abroad.
“You’re going to get a bullet in the head for your questions”
Reporter Viorica Tătaru from TV8 was verbally threatened several times at protests, but also on Facebook, after publishing some reports. She received messages with death threats or physical threats: “You’re going to get a bullet in the head for your questions”, and “Don’t walk around filming, someone will cut off your hands”, are threats addressed to her on social media. Viorica Tătaru filed a complaint with the police, and a criminal investigation was started on one of these cases, but the investigation is still ongoing.
Journalists who have worked during these protests claim that it is the first time they have encountered so many hate messages and threats. Viorica Tătaru, who filmed protests for more than 5 years, organized by different parties and organizations, claims that this year there were so many daily threats that “We have come to consider them normal as if that’s how it should be. Several times the situation was so tense while filming the protests that I had to call the police to protect us from violent protesters. At the same time, the organizers of the protests should explain to the participants that journalists and cameramen are at work, doing work of public interest”, she claims.
On November 26, Mihail Sirkeli from the Nokta portal in Găgăuzia was also publicly threatened. In public posts, one of the supporters of the Russian war in Ukraine wrote that a brick might just fall on Sirkeli’s head.
But cases of threats and aggression against journalists happened not only at the protests of Shor. A few years ago, Julieta Savițchi from the Center for Journalistic Investigations was physically assaulted by a representative of the Shor Party, because she was filming while he was handing out money to the protesters in front of the Central Electoral Commission. The contravention case was started with great difficulty and has been going on in court for more than three years.
She was not defended in Moldova, she reached the ECHR
In 2018, Julieta Savițchi had an even worse situation, “I was threatened with a gun, seized for 40 minutes and guarded by two armed guys from Justar (security company e.n.). The reason was that I had filmed the house under construction of Constantin Ţuţu, at that time a deputy in the infamous Plahotniuc government”, explains the journalist. Although she submitted a complaint to the police with the request to investigate the case under article 180/1, the investigator came up with the proposal not to start the criminal investigation due to the lack of criminal elements, a request later supported by prosecutors and magistrates, who did not want to go against a person from Plahotniuc’s entourage. The case is pending at the ECHR.
The well-known investigative journalist in Romania, Cătălin Tolontan, told us that similar situations happen to investigative reporters there, and the authorities do not always manage to react promptly, although the propagation of hate messages against journalists investigating corruption schemes can have very dangerous consequences.
“We looked carefully at the cases of assassination of journalists in Europe (the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed in Malta, and Jan Cuciak, killed, together with his fiancee, in Slovakia, e.n.). They all had some steps. The first step was the attempt to buy or intimidate the journalists in question. Compromising material about their private lives followed the attempt to smear them. There is another very interesting step that is very little discussed – the step where the state itself turns against you. Instead of defending you, the police, prosecutors, etc. start harassing you. Why is this a very important step? Because when the villains see this, they say – it’s clear, no one defends them anymore. And all fear and limits disappear. All these steps, if we look, were carried out before the murder of journalists from Slovakia and Malta”, explains Cătălin Tolontan, editorial coordinator at Libertatea and Gazeta Sporturilor in Romania.
Not if, but when will there be a serious physical assault or even an assassination
He and his colleagues are known throughout the world for their resounding investigations into corruption in Romania, becoming the heroes of the Oscar-nominated documentary Collective. Cătălin confirms the impact of journalistic investigations, but also notes the destructive phase of threats against journalists, especially when they are not resolved.
“If we look at Romania and Moldova, if things go like this, in my opinion, it’s not a matter of if, but of when – there will be a serious physical aggression or even an assassination,” concludes Tolontan.
Eduard Bapcinețchi, an officer in the Community Interaction Section of the Public Order Directorate at the National Public Security Inspectorate, claims that hate messages, both in the public space and in the digital space, are taken into account by the authorities, only that there could be multiple complaints, which sometimes exceed the police’s ability to investigate them all. He also mentions that the policemen do not give punishments, all these cases end up in courts and they need more time to take a decision in these cases.
Death threats or physical threats against journalists are a wake-up call for European authorities, especially as investigations drag on and many crimes go unpunished. In the last 20 years, almost 1000 journalists have been killed around the world because of their work. In 9 out of 10 cases the killers went unpunished. In 2022, a record number of assassinated reporters is recorded – 65, the increase is also caused by the Russian war in Ukraine, but also by other conflict zones or in countries with autocratic governments. At the same time, the number of journalists under threat, especially on digital platforms, is even higher and the deterioration of journalists’ safety is raising alarm bells globally.
In early November 2022, an international forum on impunity for crimes against journalists was held in Vienna. Han Moraal is secretary general of the International Association of Prosecutors. He attended the forum with a message encouraging governments to cooperate for better efficiency in investigations into crimes against journalists.
Contacted by ZdG, prosecutor Han Moraal has a message for the authorities of Moldova:
“The most important thing is for investigators and prosecutors to realize that an act of violence against a journalist is not an act of violence against any person, but something much more, because journalists are greatly needed to have a free and informed society. Police or prosecutor’s investigators must feel responsible to contribute to the creation of a free society, and if they do, then they must consider violence against journalists a serious act.
So this is my message to them: take this seriously, act immediately and appropriately.”