Transnistria * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Transnistria *

Transnistria *

Not Free
24/100
Overview: 

Transnistria is a breakaway region of Moldova in which ethnic Russians and Ukrainians together outnumber ethnic Moldovans. The territory has enjoyed 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 limited, and the dominant party is aligned with powerful local business interests. Impartiality and pluralism of opinion in media is very limited, and authorities closely control civil society activity.

Key Developments: 

Key Developments in 2018:

  • A restrictive new law on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) took effect in May. It mandated more detailed reporting by NGOs, including on foreign funding, and prohibited foreign-backed NGOs from engaging in a broad scope of actions deemed “political activities.”
  • In November, lawmaker and Communist Party leader Oleg Horzhan was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. He had been arrested and stripped of his parliamentary immunity earlier in the year on charges including organizing an unauthorized demonstration.
  • A number of agreements reached within the 5+2 negotiation framework were implemented during the year. These included the introduction of a new, neutral license plate that allows Transnistrian residents to drive into Moldova, the recognition in Moldova of Transnistrian educational documents, and permission for those on the right bank to access their farmland on the left bank, in Dubăsari.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

POLITICAL RIGHTS: 10 / 40

A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 3 / 12

A1.      Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 1 / 4

The president is elected to up to two five-year terms. Parliament speaker Vadim Krasnoselsky, an independent closely associated with the Obnovleniye (Renewal) Party, defeated incumbent Yevgeniy Shevchuk in the 2016 presidential election, following a campaign characterized by corruption allegations traded between the two. Shevchuk was defeated even as his campaign draw significantly on public resources, including the state media, which heavily favored him and sought to portray Krasnoselsky as a crony of Sheriff Enterprises, the powerful business conglomerate that dominates the economy and backs the Renewal Party; Krasnoselsky had previously served as the company’s security chief. Given Transnistria’s political status, established 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 is approved by the parliament. Krasnoselsky tapped Alexander Martynov to serve as prime minister in late 2016.

A2.      Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 1 / 4

Members of the 43-seat, unicameral Supreme Council are elected to five-year terms. Renewal won a landslide victory in 2015 elections, due in large part to poor economic conditions and dissatisfaction with then president Shevchuk’s government. A small group of Shevchuk’s allies and supporters demonstrated against the results of the elections, claiming vote manipulation. As Transnistria is not internationally recognized, no established election monitor sent a mission to observe the election’s conduct.

The winners of 2017 by-elections for seats left vacant by resignations were considered allies of Sheriff Enterprises. Several candidates were reportedly impeded from registration, including one who was favored to win his district.

A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 1 / 4

Actors from various political camps have alleged that the Electoral Commission is subject to political pressure. In 2015, ahead of that year’s elections, authorities unsuccessfully tried to evict the Electoral Commission from its offices, in what was viewed as an attempt to interfere with its operations.

In 2018, the Tiraspol-based Institute for Political Studies and Regional Development hosted discussions about transitioning from a majoritarian electoral system to a mixed one; proponents of a change argued that current system has resulted in the concentration of power among oligarchic interests. However, the debate did not appear to have been taken up in the parliament.

B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 5 / 16

B1. 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 / 4

Transnistria’s entire political establishment, including nominal opposition parties and civil society organizations, supports the separatist system and Russia’s role as patron. In the 2015 Supreme Council elections, Renewal won overwhelmingly with 35 of 43 seats; Proryv (Breakthrough) and the Communist Party each won 1 seat. Several independent deputies gained seats, but they are affiliated with Renewal. With the 2016 election of Krasnoselsky as president, the political establishment is now controlled by Renewal.

In past years, the Communist Party has been able to hold some events and speak out against the government in a limited way. However, in 2018, authorities jailed the party’s leader, lawmaker Oleg Horzhan. In June, Horzhan was stripped of parliamentary immunity and arrested for organizing illegal demonstrations, criticizing an official, and interfering with law enforcement agents, and in November was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. Horzhan’s arrest reportedly came after he had organized his own rally in the wake of a ban on an annual May 1 Labor Day demonstration.

B2.      Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 2 / 4

The Renewal Party has long dominated the legislature. In recent years, opposition candidates have occasionally faced difficulties registering to compete in elections.

While the main candidates in the 2016 election to the country’s powerful presidency were independents, the post effectively rotated between power bases when Shevchuk was defeated by Krasnoselsky.

A number of corruption cases were initiated against Shevchuk in 2017, and he has since fled the territory.

B3.      Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 1 / 4

The Transnistrian political establishment is dominated by the monopolistic conglomerate Sheriff Enterprises. Additionally, the influence of Russia is undergirded by the presence of 1,500 Russian troops, who are stationed to guard a Soviet-era ammunition depot and uphold a 1992 cease-fire between Transnistria and Moldova. The Moldovan government periodically calls for Russia to withdraw its forces.

B4.      Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 1 / 4

Few women are included in the political elite (for example, there are only 3 women in the 43-seat Supreme Soviet). However, women are able to exercise some political rights and participate in campaigns.

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, but residents with Russian citizenship had access to polling stations during Russia’s tightly controlled 2018 presidential election.

C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 2 / 12

C1.      Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 1 / 4

Elected representatives are promptly inaugurated following elections. Sheriff Enterprises exerts a strong influence on government policies, which are also closely monitored by the Russian political establishment.

C2.      Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 0 / 4

Transnistrian politics have long been built on nepotism and favoritism. In 2017, several prosecutions for abuse of power were initiated against Shevchuk; beyond this, there are few visible safeguards against official corruption.

C3.      Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1 / 4

Although the authorities publish information on websites and are interviewed on television about their policies, many governmental discussions are not open to the media, and governmental openness and transparency are limited.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: 14 / 60

D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 5 / 16

D1.      Are there free and independent media? 0 / 4

Authorities closely monitor and control the public media, and Sheriff dominates private broadcasting, leading to widespread self-censorship. There are few independent print outlets and they have limited circulation. Critical reporting draws harassment by the government, which also uses bureaucratic obstruction and the withholding of information to inhibit independent media.

In 2016, the parliament passed legislation giving itself greater authority over state media outlets, including the power to appoint editorial staff. The legislation also enabled officials to limit media access to their activities and bar the use of recording devices. Transnistrian authorities deny Moldovan media outlets access to Transnistria.

D2.      Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2 / 4

Most of the population is Christian Orthodox, and authorities have denied registration to several smaller religious groups, which at times face harassment by police and Orthodox opponents. A 2016 law imposed restrictions or penalties related to unauthorized distribution of religious literature, preaching in public spaces, and organized religious activities in residential buildings. Members of the Muslim community report a reluctance to practice their faith openly due to past intimidation by authorities. In 2018, a well-known imam fled the territory after being placed on a wanted list by the Committee for State Security.

D3.      Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 1 / 4

Academics and students may take part in international forums, but participation in events sponsored in Moldova is discouraged by concerns about retribution from Transnistrian authorities. 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 eight Latin-script schools in Transnistria governed by the Moldovan constitutional authorities continue to face pressure from local authorities.

D4.      Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 2 / 4

While people do share their opinions in private settings, including on sensitive developments, legal restrictions on certain kinds of speech discourages free discussion. The Penal Code contains penalties for the public expression of disrespect for the Russian peacekeeping mission. Expression is also inhibited somewhat in public spaces by concerns about surveillance or retribution for voicing dissent.

E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 2 / 12

E1.      Is there freedom of assembly? 1 / 4

Authorities limit freedom of assembly through measures such as rejection on administrative grounds of applications for permits to hold meetings and protests. Reportedly, only two protests actions have received formal permission in the past five years, both in 2015. Participants in unsanctioned actions have faced administrative penalties or have been detained.

In 2018, authorities reportedly banned an annual May Day demonstration, prompting Communist Party leader Horzhan to attempt to organize a separate rally in June—efforts that led to his arrest and prison sentence. A number of participants in the June event were also reportedly arrested. Authorities reportedly banned an annual commemoration of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution several days after Horzhan’s sentencing.

E2.      Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1 / 4

Nongovernmental and civic work remains a challenge. Organizations working on human rights or which are perceived as threatening authorities face harassment. The local Coordination Council of Technical Aid must approve governance-related work. An NGO law that took effect in May 2018 mandated more detailed reporting by NGOs, including on foreign funding, and prohibited foreign-backed NGOs from engaging in a broad scope of actions deemed to be “political activities.”

E3.      Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 0 / 4

Trade unions in Transnistria are unreformed since the Soviet era, and they are not independent. Local and regional authorities manipulate trade unions for political gain.

F. RULE OF LAW: 2 / 16

F1.       Is there an independent judiciary? 0 / 4

The judiciary serves the interests of the authorities. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has asserted that Russia is responsible for all decisions of Transnistrian courts, and that the courts do not meet minimum standards of fairness.

F2.       Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0 / 4

Justice is applied arbitrarily and to serve the interests of those in power. Police continued to engage in arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions in 2018, according to the US State Department.

F3.       Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1 / 4

Transnistrian authorities adopted an Action Plan in 2015 to end torture in custody, but the practice is still reported, and prison conditions remain poor. Police mistreatment of suspects is common and there are few if any avenues for victims to gain recourse.

F4.       Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1 / 4

The Transnistrian constitution guarantees rights and freedoms of persons and citizens “without distinction as to sex, race, nationality, language, religion, social origin,” and others, but these are not uniformly upheld. The Moldovan-speaking minority faces discrimination and harassment. Same-sex activity is illegal in Transnistria, and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community has been forced underground as a result of widespread government and societal discrimination.

G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 5 / 16

G1.      Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2 / 4

Approximately 300,000 people in Transnistria hold Moldovan citizenship and can travel freely to European Union (EU) countries. Cars with local license plates cannot cross the border to Moldova, but since October 2018, residents of Transnistria may obtain neutral license plates that allow them to drive on international roads. The agreement was reached as part of the 5+2 negotiation framework, comprised of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with Russia and Ukraine acting as mediators; also as part of the 5+2 framework, Moldovan authorities began recognizing Transnistrian educational documents in 2018. Earlier, in 2017, a key bridge between Transnistria and Moldova was opened, facilitating the easier movement of people and goods.

G2.      Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1 / 4

Private property is only allowed for housing in Transnistrian region; other property rights, including land ownership, remain restricted. Procedures for establishing a private business are hampered by bureaucratic impediments. Since August 2018, residents on the right bank may access their farm land in Dubăsari region for an established period of 20 years.

G3.      Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1 / 4

Same-sex marriage is not permitted. Many women are pressured to have large families. Domestic violence is a growing concern, with no law criminalizing it. However, the problem has become more public, including through television reports. Dedicated services, including psychological aid, a hotline for victims, and shelters are operated by civil society organizations supported by international donor organizations.

G4.      Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1 / 4

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

Explanatory Note: 

*Indicates a territory as opposed to an independent country.