Opinion: “PAS Finds Reasons to Demolish the Vestiges of Democracy in the Country”

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Christian RUSSU
The ruling party is taking advantage of high-profile events in the country to tighten the screws once again – in particular, to enforce total surveillance of citizens
The abduction and brutal murder of a 19-year-old pregnant girl from Orhei district by a former police officer shocked society and provoked another wave of outrage. The fate of Ana Maria Guja resonated with pain not only in the hearts of thousands of women who suffered gender-based discrimination and violence. Feelings of lawlessness, helplessness and fear of those in authority are familiar to everyone in our country, regardless of gender, place of birth or even social status. Abuse of official powers, demands for bribes, threats of criminal prosecution – all this is a daily reality for many. We can tolerate the fact that representatives of the authorities or members of law enforcement agencies can get away with almost anything: from parking on pavements to drunk driving, from inappropriate behavior, rudeness and violence to covering up criminal business. However, when it comes to taking innocent lives, many can no longer stay silent. Having realized the high degree of public discontent, the ruling regime decided to “let off steam”, but to its own profit, i.e. to take advantage of the people’s anger to gain even greater control over this very society. Cynical and cruel, but so necessary for the preservation of power. Before the May holidays, the parliament held hearings on the case of the murdered girl with the participation of police officers, prosecutors, judges and public activists. It was initiated by the women’s wing of PAS, represented by the deputy speaker of the parliament, Doina Gherman, and Veronica Roška, who replaced Olesea Stamate as chair of the legal commission. As it is easy to guess, the conversation centered on gender-based violence and methods of combating it. For this purpose, the parliament invited mainly female representatives from all authorities and civil society. The women were accompanied by the chief of the Inspectorate General of Police, Viorel Cerneutanu, former SIS and current PAS deputy Adrian Cheptonar and a few others. The show was played out without a hitch. Viorel Cerneutanu complained about the “helplessness” of the police in the face of a bureaucratic system that requires a court order for access to personal data of citizens, geolocation and decryption of telephone calls. If the police had all this without restrictions, then perhaps the poor girl would still be alive – at least that was the answer to a direct question from representatives of women’s civil society organizations. The reasoning for people was weighty: if there had been a possibility to quickly localize the necessary phones, it would not have been necessary to involve 900 people in the search for the girl. In addition, our law enforcers need full real-time access to all surveillance cameras in public places. This is not only about the equipment of municipalities, but also all the cameras of economic agents. To justify this, the example of unsuccessful cooperation between the police and “undesirable” local authorities in Ilan Sor’s fiefdom, Orhei district, was cited. In the best traditions of communist propaganda, the head of the General Inspectorate of Police mercilessly denounced his whistleblowers from Orhei, who allegedly had deliberately sent him the requested photo and video materials in poor quality, or had been absent at all because of attending some odd event in Moscow. It goes without saying that Viorel Cerneutanu asked for such powers only for a few employees in his department, that he promised to punish unauthorized surveillance of citizens, and also referred to the progressive experience of Euro-Atlantic partners. In addition, the police want to prohibit the practice of using Pre-pay mobile telephony, when a SIM card of Moldovan telecom operators can be bought without identity documents. In short, no one who is of interest to Big Brother on a national scale should escape his eye. In an election year, tightening the screws by introducing total surveillance of citizens is apparently another idea of the ruling party. We can only hope that the foreign owners of mobile operators in the country will not appreciate such “care” from the authorities, but there is a chance that they will be forced. What will the public receive in return? The representatives of NGOs close to the Platform of Women MPs were, of course, the most audacious during the hearings. The president of the Women’s Law Center, Angelina Zaporojan-Pirgari, on behalf of 40 NGOs, demanded that a new concept of “femicide” be introduced into national legislation, that the Criminal Code establish punishment for gender-based crimes, and that aggravating circumstances based on gender bias be prescribed. It is not the first event on such trending topics that the PAS ladies have organized. Last summer they held public consultations to discuss the concept of creating a Centre for the Prevention and Combating of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. This is another new administrative structure in the bureaucracy, similar to the Disinformation Centre. In October last year, the Family Justice Centre was opened in the presence of the First Lady as a unit of the Inspectorate General of Police for victims of domestic and sexual violence. It is noteworthy that the plans to restrict the rights and freedoms of citizens by expanding surveillance capabilities are being voiced against the backdrop of criticism by international human rights organizations for already imposed restrictions on democratic norms. This week Amnesty International and a number of human rights organizations in the country have issued a joint statement accusing the Moldovan authorities of undermining the right to freedom of expression. They are referring to the suspension of the licenses of a total of 11 TV channels and 3 radio stations without judicial review or clear legal grounds.  The ruling party’s attempt to cover itself with national security interests to counter Russian influence was formally rejected by the public, who demanded to put an end to the vicious practice of authorizing media outlets through out-of-court decisions in the absence of transparency and clearly defined legal grounds. However, the criticisms of the PAS by international organizations are no longer particularly encouraging to any observers. Not only are they sporadic in nature, but they also, in fact, play into the hands of the message promoted by the authorities about the severity of Russian hybrid influence, which is allegedly the reason for all the restrictions. All this suggests that until the time of the autumn elections we may witness many more violations of our rights and freedoms, arbitrariness and lawlessness, which will be presented “as inevitable costs” of the struggle for our personal or national security.