Statement by the Center for Investigative Journalism: by launching a criminal case against journalists, the freedom of the media is seriously threatened

CIJM
03/02/2022
CIJM

The Center for Investigative Journalism of the Republic of Moldova (ICJM), a non-governmental organization specialized in investigative journalism, expresses its concern over the decision of a magistrate to require prosecutors to initiate criminal cases  against ICJM, journalists Cornelia Cozonac and Julieta Savitchi as well as the civic activist Anatol Mătăsaru for accessing and collecting personal data for a journalistic investigation regarding the undeclared property of a prosecutor and his ex-wife.

This is the first ever criminal case launched against journalists in the Republic of Moldova who are carrying their professional duties, and sets a dangerous precedent and seriously undermines media and expression freedoms. The journalists accessed and collected information using legal methods of documentation about the undeclared property of the prosecutor Igor Popa and his ex-wife Ala Popa, a fact for which they cannot be prosecuted.

On 27.01.2022, Chisinau District Court based in Ciocana, Judge Victor Rațoi, annulled the prosecutor's order regarding the refusal to initiate criminal proceedings at the request of Ala Popa for the alleged ILLEGAL collection of data on the property of the two ex-spouses, Igor and Ala Popa, within the journalistic investigation “VIDEO // The fictitious divorce and the hidden property of the prosecutor Igor Popa”, published on July 22, 2020.

The journalistic investigation reveals that prosecutor Igor Popa, head of the Ciocana office of Chisinau Prosecutor's Office, former Deputy General Prosecutor, did not indicate in the statement on property the buildings he uses. He filed for divorce with his wife, after which the respective properties were registered under her name. The journalists showed in the journalistic investigation that the prosecutor lives with his wife and children in that building, a luxurious one located in the center of Chisinau. At the end of 2021, prosecutors launched two criminal cases against Igor Popa for false statements and illicit enrichment, both cases having been based on information from the journalistic investigation.

The Center for Investigative Jorunalism is concerned that the editorial team and the authors of the investigation have been harassed and intimidated  by the former wife of the prosecutor Ala Popa, a lawyer by profession, since 2019, the beginning of the documentation process of the investigation, when the cadastre real estate registry was accessed. Even  more worrying is the fact that state institutions are being used to achieve the goal of intimidating and silencing journalists. For example, the National Center for Personal Data Protection issued two contradictory decisions in one and the same case in the CIJM case, one for violation of the law and another for non-violation - decisions that were the basis for Judge Rațoi's motivation to cancel the prosecutor's order. The entire harassment process of investigative journalists is documented in another journalistic material "CASE STUDY How a prosecutor's wife tried to silence journalists", published in October 2021.  

For almost a year, from November 2020 to September 2021, the Center for Investigative Journalism, journalists Julieta Savișchi and Cornelia Cozonac and activist Anatol Mătăsaru were investigated in a criminal case, initiated by the Chisinau Center Police Inspectorate, at the complaint of Ala Popa, who complained about the "illegal collection and unauthorized dissemination by the Center for Investigative Journalism of information about personal life, which is a personal secret."

The criminal trial with no. 20200101462 of November 4, 2020 was examined in the light of the provisions of art. 177 of the Criminal Code, according to which the legislator establishes the criminal liability for “violation of the inviolability of personal life”, e.g. “illegal collection or knowingly dissemination of information, protected by law about personal life, which constitutes personal or family secret of another person, without her consent.

On September 20, 2021, the prosecutor Sergiu Harea from the Centru Prosecutor's Office signed an order not to start the criminal investigation in the case of the Center for Investigative Journalism. He accepted the report with the proposal not to start the criminal investigation, presented by the criminal investigation officer of the Criminal Investigation Section of the Police Inspectorate Centru of the Chisinau Police Department, Mihaela Crulicovschi. The reason for not starting the criminal investigation in the criminal process no. 20200101462 was that "the deed does not meet the elements of the crime".

On January 31, Judge Victor Rățoi annulled the decision not to start the criminal investigation and thus forced the prosecutors to start the criminal investigation  against the journalists and the Center for Investigative Journalism.

The Center for Investigative Journalism considers all these concerted actions as an unprecedented attack on the team of investigative journalists and on the freedom of the media and freedom of expression in the Republic of Moldova.

The Center for Investigative Journalism will defend the image and rights of its journalists by all legal means.

 

CIJM
03/02/2022



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