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‘In Camera Justice Going Behind Citizens’ Back – This is How Journalists Qualify the Hearing on the Validation of the Mandate of the Newly Elected Mayor of the Capital, to Which They Didn’t Have Access

20 June 2018
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The decision of Judge Rodica Berdilo, from the Chisinau Court, to restrict mass media access to the court hearing on the validation of the new local election of the mayor of the capital, which took place on 19 June, triggered a wave of dissatisfaction. Journalists qualify this decision as an abuse from behalf of the judiciary and argue that their access to information has been restricted on the ground that the event was of major public interest.

Cornelia Cozonac, president of the Center for Investigative Journalism (CIJM), believes that court’s decision to restrict TV crews’ access to this hearing is ‘an abuse and a violation of the freedom of the press’. ‘We talk about elections and a big number of citizens voted for one candidate or another. This is why the event was of a major public interest and the court hearing should have been open for the audience. Journalists were deprived of the right to reflect the event – there was a big deal of media that came to see how the justice is made – and this is important to society. I think that the court abused and infringed the freedom of the press and the right of citizens’, Cornelia Cozonac told Media-azi.md.
According to Vitalie Calugareanu, journalist at Deutsche Welle, judge Berdilo’s decision to ‘banish’ the press from the courtroom ‘demonstrates that she knew from the very beginning what decision she had to take’. In addition, the journalist believes that such decisions are a potential social danger. ‘The fact that, in general, we witness an increasing number of practices when the court delivers judgements with its back to those present in the courtroom, when the hearings on cases of high resonance are being held in camera, when lawyers and those involved in the cases are removed from the trial proves us one thing: justice in the Republic of Moldova is not independent’, Deutsche Welle journalist says.

The legal experts were also perplexed by the court’s decision. Ion Guzun, legal officer at the Legal Resources Center from Moldova, also agrees with the fact that journalists’ right to access information of public interest has been restricted: ‘It seems strange that the judge has decided to apply to journalists a procedure different from that of her colleague, Valentin Lastavetchi, who was recused. The latter allowed the press to assist and to film the entire trial. Hence, I didn’t understand why the judge changed this procedure, thus limiting the filming of the entire court hearing’.

According to Ion Guzun, this hearing was highly important, therefore the restriction of journalists’ access wasn’t grounded. The legal expert believes that in this way the citizens who voted in the new local elections, regardless of their options, were also limited in their right to information. ‘The hearing was supposed to be public, since we speak about citizen’s right to choose, not about minor children or certain aspects of one’s intimate or private life’, the legal expert highlighted.