Moldovan president signs changes to treason law denounced by opposition, Amnesty International

By Thomson Reuters Jun 10, 2024 | 6:31 PM

By Alexander Tanas

CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldova’s pro-European president signed into law on Monday changes to the criminal code expanding provisions on treason denounced by her opponents and Amnesty International.

The amendments were approved last week by parliament, dominated by President Maia Sandu’s Party of Action and Solidarity, with the aim of fighting organised crime groups authorities say are bent on destabilising the ex-Soviet state.

Opponents say they could undermine freedom of speech and the work of journalists ahead of an October presidential election and a referendum on joining the European Union.

“This means if you make any objection, you are off to prison,” said Alexei Lungu of the pro-Russian “Victory” opposition bloc, which campaigns on the slogan “No to the EU.”

Vlad Battincea of the Moscow-friendly Socialist Party, said the law amounted to “creating a new form of fight against people, parties and politicians who have a different point of view. This is an attack on pluralism.”

The changes extend to peacetime treason provisions previously limited to a state of war, extend prison terms and remove a requirement that actions must directly harm the state. They also create a new category of crime for assisting a foreign state.

Amnesty International, in a statement issued last month by its executive director in Moldova, Veaceslav Tofan, urged Sandu not to sign the legislation.

“The broadened definition of high treason is vague and open to abuse, posing a particular threat to the right to freedom of expression,” Tofan said.

“This new definition of high treason could be used to target political dissent and critical voices under the guise of countering malevolent foreign influence.”

Sandu has made securing European Union membership the cornerstone of her policies and denounced Russia and corruption as the biggest threats facing the country lying between Ukraine and EU member Romania.

Moldova’s authorities have tried to curb the activities of politicians linked to fugitive business magnate Ilan Shor, the driving force between the Victory electoral bloc.

Shor was sentenced in absentia last year to 15 years in prison for his part in a 2014 $1 billion bank fraud. A party bearing his name was outlawed by the Constitutional Court, and his associates were barred from running in local elections.

Opposition parties accuse Sandu of exploiting the EU referendum to win re-election in the October presidential poll.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Editing by Ron Popeski and Richard Chang)