Lucy Popescu

Natalia Morari

I am delighted that Herta Müller, a member of Romania’s ethnic German minority persecuted for her critical depictions of life under Ceauşescu, has won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature. Romanians have a long and rich tradition of literature that only really faltered during those terrible years under Ceauşescu. The regime banned many books and plays and various authors, like Müller and Norman Manea, were forced to leave Romania. 

Since then, there has been sporadic harassment of outspoken writers in the region. In 2001, poet, philosopher, and university professor Marta Petreu was awarded a Hellman/Hammett grant in recognition of her outspoken criticism of extreme right ideology in Romania, for which she suffered threats and increasing isolation from public life. Now, PEN is highlighting the case of a 25-year-old Moldovan investigative journalist, Natalia Morari, who is reportedly charged with ‘calls for organising and staging mass disturbances’ and could face up to eight years in prison.

In 1859, Moldova was considered part of Romania, but it was incorporated into the Soviet Union at the close of the Second World War. It only truly gained its independence in August 1991, although Romanian continues to be the main language spoken. Moldova remains one of the poorest nations in Europe, and retains close cultural links with its neighbour.

Morari studied and worked in Russia as an investigative journalist for the Moscow-based The New Times. She wrote on contentious issues such as corruption and money laundering, and was described as ‘a rising star’ in the dangerous world of Russian investigative reporting. In late 2007, Morari published a number of reports on political irregularities within the Kremlin and corruption inside the Russian intelligence service, the FSB. 

In December 2007, Morari was barred from re-entering Russia on her return from an assignment in Israel. She was held in Domodedovo airport in Moscow overnight before being deported to Moldova. Two weeks later she was informed that she would no longer be allowed to enter Russia under Article 27(1) of Law 114. This states that non-Russian citizens can be barred from entering Russia if considered ‘a threat for national security, defence capacity of the state, public order and public health of Russian citizens’. 

Commenting on the reasons for her expulsion, Morari said:

I think that certain employees of the FSB are acting independently in the hope that this will advance their careers. There is a trend – to pursue the unwanted, independent journalists, human rights advocates, businessmen … Having caught on to this trend, bureaucrats of various agencies are trying to get noticed. There are many such … unwanted ones. And we are undesirable for the current power of Russia.

In February 2008, Morari married Ilya Barabanov, a Russian citizen and fellow journalist for The New Times. When the couple attempted to return to Russia together, she was again refused entry. Her husband continues to live in Russia, and visits Morari in Moldova every two to three weeks. 

The current charges against Morari stem from a protest she organised, together with a group of activists, which took place on 7 April 2009 at the Great National Square in Chişinău, the Moldovan capital. The protest was coordinated using text messages on mobile phones, and via the Twitter and Facebook networks. Its objective was to hold a ‘day of mourning’ after the results of the 5 April parliamentary elections had been made public. The ruling Communist Party won 50 per cent of the vote, according to official results, with the nearest opposition party taking only 13 per cent. Many believed the elections were rigged. 

Initially, the organisers thought the demonstration would attract several hundred people and on 6 April informed the authorities accordingly. However, the following day over 10,000 people came out in protest. At around midday events turned ugly; there were clashes with police and the demonstrators broke into and ransacked parliament. Hours later the riots were quelled by the authorities, allegedly with excessive use of force. International commentators have since dubbed it the ‘Twitter Revolution’. 

Morari has said that she had not wanted or expected the violence, but praised the courage of young people in coming onto the streets to protest against alleged election irregularities. She told Index on Censorship: 

The authorities’ reaction over the next few days demonstrated their fear of control on communication and assembly, as they went on to filter the Internet. In some cases it was completely blocked along with decreased, virtually non-existent, media coverage of the protests and the collapse of mobile phone networks … This is not only about Moldova: it is about the whole meaning of cyber-space, and its impact on our freedoms.

In spite of the charges against her, Morari continues to report on European issues for The New Times. She also blogs for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 

Morari was released from house arrest in early May 2009 but cannot leave the country.

Please send appeals protesting the charges against Natalia Morari for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression, and calling for them to be dismissed; and urging the Moldovan government to respect Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the rights of all individuals to free expression. Appeals should be addressed to:

Parliamentary Human Rights Advocate
Anatolie Munteanu
Centre for Human Rights in the Republic of Moldova
16 Sfatul Tarii Str, MD-2012, Chişinău
Republic of Moldova
Fax: 00 373 22 22 54 42

Prosecutor General
Valeriu Gurbulea
26 Mitropolit Banulescu-Bodoni Str, MD-2005, Chişinǎu
Republic of Moldova
Fax: 00 373 22 21 20 32

Update: Human rights group Memorial and its leader, Oleg Orlov, were found guilty on 6 October of defaming Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov after speaking out about the murder of Natalia Estemirova. The court ordered Memorial to pay Kadyrov 50,000 roubles (£1,046) in damages; Orlov is to pay an additional 20,000 roubles (£418.60) and is obliged to retract his accusation.

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