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Journalist arrested, charged with treachery

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 15 April 2010 - The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from South East and Central Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), strongly condemns the arrest of Ernest Vardanian, an independent and well-known journalist in Moldova.

According to information brought to the attention of SEEMO, Vardanian was arrested on 7 April 2010 in front of his house in Tiraspol and was accused of espionage and treason by men who identified themselves as secret service agents of the Transnistria region of Moldova. Vardanian remains in pre-trial detention. If found guilty, he could face 12-20 years in prison.

Vardanian is an independent journalist well-known in Moldova for his often critical reporting on state officials and matters of public interest. Vardanian was also a correspondent for the Russian Novuy Region agency.

SEEMO Secretary-General Oliver Vujovic said: "The accusations against Vardanian of high treason due to critical reporting are unacceptable. SEEMO regards prison terms for defamation as a gross violation of internationally-accepted standards and believes that defamation should be treated under civil law, not as a criminal offence subject to punishment by the state. SEEMO urges the Ministry of Security in Tiraspol to withdraw the charges and the prison sentence. SEEMO would also like to remind the Ministry of Security in Tiraspol that an open media environment, allowing for the free flow of information, is a fundamental principle of any democratic society."

The arrest and charging of Vardanian has prompted members of the Moldovan government and various international organizations to call for his release. SEEMO fully supports all these organizations, as well as those Moldovan authorities calling for Vardanian's release.

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