Transnistria*

Not Free
20
100
PR Political Rights 8 40
CL Civil Liberties 12 60
Last Year's Score & Status
22 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.
* Indicates a territory as opposed to an independent country.

header1 Note

Freedom in the World  reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.

header2 Overview

Transnistria is a breakaway region of Moldova in which ethnic Russians and Ukrainians together outnumber ethnic Moldovans. The territory has operated with de facto independence since a brief military conflict in 1992, though it is internationally recognized as a part of Moldova. Its government and economy are heavily dependent on subsidies from Russia, which maintains a military presence and peacekeeping mission in the territory. Political competition is increasingly restricted, and the ruling political group is aligned with powerful local business interests. Impartiality and pluralism of opinion in the media is very limited, and authorities closely control civil society activity.

header3 Key Developments in 2020

  • Beginning in March, the separatist authorities tightened travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, disrupting civilian life and livelihoods along the de facto border with government-controlled Moldova. Approximately 26,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus were reported during the year, as were more than 500 deaths.
  • The Transnistrian government escalated its crackdown on dissent during the year, initiating criminal cases against several political and civic activists.
  • The legislative elections in November featured low voter turnout and a lack of basic competition, with candidates in more than two-thirds of the districts running unopposed. The ruling party captured nearly all of the seats, and no genuine opposition parties won representation.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 1.001 4.004

The president is elected for up to two consecutive five-year terms. Parliament speaker Vadim Krasnoselsky, an independent candidate closely associated with the Renewal (Obnovleniye) Party, won the 2016 presidential election with 62 percent of the vote in the first round, defeating incumbent Yevgeniy Shevchuk, who took 27 percent. Four other candidates divided the remainder. The campaign featured mutual accusations of corruption between the two main candidates, and Shevchuk lost even though his campaign was aided by administrative resources. State media heavily favored him and sought to portray Krasnoselsky as a crony of Sheriff Enterprises, the powerful business conglomerate that dominates the Transnistrian economy and backs Renewal; Krasnoselsky previously served as the company’s security chief. Given Transnistria’s political status, established international election monitors did not send missions to oversee the contest.

Constitutional amendments approved in 2011 created a relatively weak post of prime minister. The president appoints the prime minister, who must be approved by the parliament. Krasnoselsky named Aleksandr Martynov to serve as prime minister in late 2016.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

Legislation adopted in July 2019 reduced the size of the unicameral Supreme Council from 43 to 33 members, all serving five-year terms. Elections for the body were held in November 2020. A total of 51 candidates applied to run for seats, and only 45 were registered, with four denied registration and two withdrawing their applications. In 23 of the 33 electoral districts, the candidates ran unopposed; by comparison, only two candidates had run unopposed in each of the previous two legislative elections. Voter turnout was just 28 percent of the eligible electorate. The Renewal Party won 29 seats, and the remainder went to candidates who also had links to Sheriff Enterprises. As Transnistria is not internationally recognized, no established election monitoring organization sent a mission to observe the balloting.

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because the legislative elections offered voters almost no meaningful choice, with ruling party candidates running unopposed in most districts.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 1.001 4.004

The Electoral Commission has long been criticized by various political figures for an alleged lack of impartiality and independence. In 2020, at least one would-be candidate claimed that he was denied registration for political reasons.

Changes to the electoral code in 2018 abolished the 25 percent minimum turnout threshold for an election to be considered valid, though the officially reported voter turnout for the 2020 Supreme Council elections would still have cleared the former minimum.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 1.001 4.004

Transnistria’s entire political establishment, including opposition parties, supports the separatist agenda and Russia’s role as the territory’s foreign patron.

While the opposition Communist Party was formerly able to hold some events and criticize the government, it has faced growing political repression in recent years. In 2018, party leader Oleg Horzhan was arrested, stripped of his parliamentary immunity, and jailed for organizing illegal demonstrations, criticizing officials, and interfering with law enforcement agents. He received a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence.

In September 2020, the authorities initiated a criminal case against Nadezhda Bondarenko, the acting chair of the Communist Party and the editor of its newspaper, for allegedly insulting the president. Aleksandr Samoniy, a Tiraspol city councilman for the Communist Party, was charged in June for posting critical and insulting posts against the authorities on Facebook. He subsequently fled the territory.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 1.001 4.004

The Renewal Party has long controlled the legislature, and its defeat of the incumbent president in 2016 cemented its control over the executive branch as well. The territory’s persecuted opposition parties did not play a significant role in the 2020 legislative elections, which left the Supreme Council with no genuine opposition members.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 1.001 4.004

The ruling Renewal Party and the political establishment more broadly are dominated by the monopolistic business conglomerate Sheriff Enterprises. In addition, the political influence of the Russian government is undergirded by the presence of Russian troops, who are ostensibly stationed in the territory to guard a Soviet-era ammunition depot and, as peacekeepers, to uphold a 1992 cease-fire between Transnistrian and Moldovan forces. Moscow has also financially supported the territory’s pension system and provided subsidized energy.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 1.001 4.004

Both men and women have the legal right to vote, participate in campaigns, and run for office. However, the system in practice allows little opportunity for independent political activity by any segment of the population, and few women are included in the political leadership; only two women hold seats on the Supreme Council.

While Transnistria has three official languages—Russian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan—Russian is used in governmental affairs. Authorities do not allow voting in Moldovan elections to take place in Transnistrian-controlled territory, though residents who sought to vote in Moldova’s February 2019 elections were observed traveling into Moldova proper to participate. Residents with Russian citizenship had access to polling stations during Russia’s tightly controlled 2018 presidential election.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 1.001 4.004

Transnistria’s flawed elections undercut the democratic legitimacy of both executive leaders and legislative representatives. Sheriff Enterprises exerts a strong influence on elected officials’ policy decisions, which are also closely monitored by the Russian government.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 0.000 4.004

Transnistrian politics have long been built on personal business interests, nepotism, and favoritism. There are few visible safeguards against official corruption.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1.001 4.004

Although officials publish some government information on websites and are occasionally interviewed by media outlets about their policies, the public is generally excluded from decision-making processes, and governmental openness and transparency are limited in practice.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 0.000 4.004

Authorities closely monitor and control the public media, and Sheriff Enterprises dominates private broadcasting, leading to widespread self-censorship. The territory’s few independent print outlets have limited circulation. Critical reporting can result in reprisals including criminal charges, and the government also uses bureaucratic obstruction and withholding of information to inhibit independent journalism.

Legislation adopted in 2016 gave authorities even greater control over state media outlets, including the power to appoint editorial staff, and enabled officials to limit media access to their activities and bar the use of recording devices.

Travel restrictions related to COVID-19 further limited access to the territory for Moldovan and foreign journalists during 2020. Separately, telecommunications regulators in January suspended the license of LinkService, a smaller competitor of Transnistria’s leading internet service provider, which is owned by Sheriff Enterprises. An appellate court blocked the decision in April and allowed LinkService to continue operating at least through the end of the public health emergency.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2.002 4.004

Most of the population is Orthodox Christian, and authorities have denied registration to several smaller religious groups, which at times face harassment by police and Orthodox opponents. The law imposes restrictions and penalties related to unauthorized distribution of religious literature, preaching in public spaces, and organized religious activities in residential buildings. Foreign religious groups are not permitted to register, and foreign individuals may not found or join registered groups.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been unable to obtain registration in Transnistria. Members of the Muslim community report a reluctance to practice their faith openly due to past intimidation by authorities, and they have struggled to advance plans to establish a mosque in Tiraspol.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 1.001 4.004

Academics and students may take part in international forums, but potential reprisals by Transnistrian authorities are a deterrent to participation in programs sponsored by Moldova. Academic analysis of topics such as the 1992 conflict, the role of the Russian Federation and peacekeeping forces, and Transnistrian statehood are subject to censorship.

The few Latin-script schools in Transnistria that are overseen by the Moldovan state face pressure from Transnistrian authorities. During 2020, travel restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19 disrupted the routine movement of the schools’ students and staff.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 1.001 4.004

Legal restrictions on certain kinds of speech discourage free discussion. Among other provisions related to defamation or insult of the authorities, the criminal code penalizes public expression of disrespect for the Russian peacekeeping mission.

Speech-related prosecutions of dissidents, activists, and ordinary social media users have become more common in recent years, inhibiting expression by other residents. In addition to the cases against Communist Party politicians during 2020, a criminal investigation regarding incitement to extremism was opened in March against Larisa Kalik, who had recently published a book documenting abusive conditions in the Transnistrian military. She fled the territory as a result. Also in March, it was reported that pensioner Tatiana Belova and her husband, Serghei Mirovici, had been sentenced to three years in prison for “extremism” and “insulting the president” via posts on Telegram in 2019. Belova was released in July, but Mirovici reportedly remained in prison.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because prosecutions on charges such as inciting extremism or insulting the authorities have discouraged free expression in recent years.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 0.000 4.004

Freedom of assembly is tightly restricted. Authorities consistently reject applications for permits to hold meetings and protests, and participants in unauthorized actions face administrative penalties or criminal prosecution.

In July 2020, the authorities dispersed a public protest in Rîbnița in which participants voiced objections to pandemic-related travel restrictions that prevented them from reaching their places of employment. Activist Gennadiy Chorba was arrested on extremism charges for organizing the protest and was placed in pretrial detention; the case was pending at year’s end. Separately in September, security forces raided an unauthorized dance party at a farm and arrested 47 people, some of whom were reportedly mistreated in custody.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1.001 4.004

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civic activists operate in a repressive environment. Groups that work on human rights issues or other topics deemed politically sensitive are subject to surveillance and harassment. The local Coordination Council for Humanitarian and Technical Assistance, which is controlled by the prime minister, must approve governance-related work.

A 2018 law requires more burdensome reporting by NGOs, including on foreign funding, and prohibits foreign-backed NGOs from engaging in broadly defined “political activities.” In 2020 the authorities continued to smear and harass the Apriori Center, an NGO that provides legal advice and capacity-building support to individual activists and other NGOs.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 0.000 4.004

The trade union system in Transnistria has not been reformed since the Soviet era, and unions are manipulated by the political leadership in practice. Independent labor activism is not tolerated.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 0.000 4.004

The judiciary serves the interests of the political authorities and Sheriff Enterprises. The European Court of Human Rights has asserted that Moscow is responsible for the decisions of Transnistrian courts, and that these courts do not meet minimum standards of fairness.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0.000 4.004

Security and law enforcement agencies in Transnistria regularly engage in arbitrary arrests and detentions and deny detainees access to attorneys. Trials and other criminal proceedings lack safeguards for due process and are frequently held without public scrutiny, with the outcomes announced after the fact.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1.001 4.004

Police mistreatment of suspects is common, and physical abuse is employed to obtain confessions. Prison conditions remain poor; denial of proper medical care has been reported, including in the case of jailed Communist Party leader Oleg Horzhan during 2020. The authorities have been accused of engaging in forced disappearances and abductions in recent years.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1.001 4.004

While the Transnistrian constitution guarantees people’s rights and freedoms “without distinction as to sex, race, nationality, language, religion,” and other such categories, these protections are frequently violated with impunity. Members of the Moldovan-speaking minority face discrimination and harassment. Women are also subject to discrimination in practice; among other problems, they are formally excluded from numerous occupations that are considered hazardous or physically difficult. Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Transnistria, and members of the LGBT+ community generally do not identify themselves publicly due to widespread government and societal discrimination.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2.002 4.004

Approximately 300,000 people in Transnistria hold Moldovan citizenship and can travel freely to European Union (EU) countries. Since 2018, Transnistria residents have been able to obtain neutral license plates for use on international roads. Moldovan authorities also began recognizing Transnistrian educational documents that year.

New checkpoints and travel restrictions were imposed beginning in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, substantially reducing freedom of movement in and out of Transnistria as well as within the territory. Among other effects on civilian life, the measures disrupted the movement of health workers to their places of employment.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1.001 4.004

Full private property rights are only recognized for housing; other property rights, including land ownership, remain restricted. Procedures for establishing a private business are hampered by bureaucratic impediments.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1.001 4.004

Same-sex marriage is not permitted. Domestic violence is a persistent concern, and it is not considered a criminal offense in the absence of serious physical injury. However, the problem has become more public in recent years, including through television reports. Dedicated services, including psychological aid, a hotline for victims, and shelters, are operated by civil society organizations supported by international donors.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1.001 4.004

Economic opportunity remains very limited. Sheriff Enterprises dominates the economy. Despite increased international aid meant to ensure better opportunities for women, many still fall victim to traffickers who subject them to forced labor or sex work.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    20 100 not free