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Opposition challenges Moldovan Government in European Court of Human Rights

Opposition challenges Moldovan Government in European Court of Human Rights over suppression of democracy. The Shor Party of Moldova has filed a draft claim to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) challenging decision by the Moldovan Government to ban the party. The application has been registered by the court and the Sor Party has been invited to complete the file by September 18, 2023. According to a legal brief published by the Party’s legal team, the ban on the Shor Party is in violation of Articles 10, 11 and 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. The Shor Party was banned earlier this year, with the Moldovan Government citing attempts by the Shor Party to invoke violence. The application from the Shor Party however states that the Party has no history of violence, something which is underlined by opinions of Judges Vladimir Țurcan and Serghei Țurcan of the Moldova Constitutional Court who each expressed serious concern about the lack of evidence underlying the ban on the party. Instead, the applicants suggest that the ban is an attempt to supress the Shor Party, who are gaining support in the polls, in light of the forthcoming local elections on 5 November – preventing its over 800 elected office holders, including 68 mayors, from seeking reelection - even in an independent or personal capacity. In their statement, the legal team write that the application has been filed to “avert harm to their rights and, more broadly, to democracy in Moldova, inherent in removing a principal opposition force as well as hundreds of experienced elected office holders from the political landscape.

The application presents several examples of alleged abuse of power by the Government, including the fact that the Presiding Judge approving the ban on the Party, Judge Nicolae Roșca, is one of the founding members of the current ruling party PAS and stood as a candidate on behalf of the PAS Party in the 2019 Parliamentary elections. 

The Shor Party is represented by several legal counsels, including international human rights law expert Alison McDonald who represented Richard Ratcliffe in seeking the release of his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from detention in Iran.

There have historically been several cases of political parties from across Europe winning their claims against Governments following having been outlawed, including the Republican Party of Russia, banned in 2007 by the Russian Government. 

Statement                                 August 21st, 2023 – London, Dublin and Brussels

On behalf of the SHOR Party of Moldova and its representatives, namely Marina Tauber, Pavel Verejanu, Dinu Țurcanu and Veaceslav Lupov, on August 17th, 2023, an application to the European Court of Human Rights was filed challenging the ban imposed on June 19th, 2023 by the Republic of Moldova on the SHOR Party, one of the two opposition parties represented in the Moldovan Parliament. The application has been registered by the court and the Shor Party has been invited to complete the file by September 18, 2023. 

According to a legal brief published by the Party’s legal team, the ban on the Shor Party is in violation of Articles 10, 11 and 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. 

Local elections are forthcoming in Moldova on November 5th, 2023, with a registration deadline for candidates and an official start of campaigning on October 6th, 2023. The ban would, unless it is lifted in time, have the effect of not only preventing the SHOR Party from fielding candidates, but would also prevent any of its over 800 elected office holders, including 68 mayors, from seeking re-election, even in an independent or personal capacity.

The application sets out that the ban on the SHOR Party is in violation of Articles 10, 11 and 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In short, the ban violates the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. In addition, as the ban on the SHOR Party is motivated by a desire to combat the democratically elected opposition, it is also contrary to restrictions permitted by the Convention under Article 18. 

The Legal team representing the applicants include: 

Shaul Brazil, Partner at BCL London specialising in business crime and regulatory enforcement. 

Alison Macdonald KC, Amy Sander and Lorraine Aboagye, barristers at Essex Court Chambers, London.

Carsten Zatschler SC is a Senior Counsel at the Bar of Ireland, where he specialises in European Union Law and International Trade Law.

Thierry Bontinck is a member of the French-speaking Order of Lawyers of the Brussels Bar (1996) and the Paris Bar, European list (2013). He is a partner at legal firm DALDEWOLF and heads the European Union Law team.

Background

  • The SHOR Party was established in 1998 and advocated Social Democratic principles.
  • Since 2016, several steps have been taken against the SHOR Party and its members, which amount in the view of the Applicants to a political campaign of harassment by the Government, instrumentalising the Central Electoral Commission, the prosecutorial authorities, and ultimately the courts.
  • This harassment ultimately culminated in a ban on the SHOR Party, confirmed by the Constitutional Court on June 19, 2023. The Constitutional Court voted with a majority of three against two judges.
  • The Application raises serious concerns regarding the apparent bias from the Presiding Judge, Judge Nicolae Roșca, who in fact is one of the founding members of the PAS Party (founded and led by the current President, Maia Sandu)), and stood as a candidate on behalf of the PAS Party in the 2019 Parliamentary elections. Judge Roșca also previously acted as President Maia Sandu’s lawyer in a civil trial against Ilan Shor, party leader of the SHOR Party. In addition, Judge Roșca's daughter is presently President Maia Sandu’s adviser. Despite this apparent conflict of interest, the Court refused to recuse Judge Roșca.
  • As for the justification of the ban against the SHOR Party, the application demonstrates that the SHOR Party has no history of violence. This conclusion is underlined by the dissenting opinions of Judges Vladimir Țurcan and Serghei Țurcan of the Moldova Constitutional Court who each expressed serious concern about the lack of evidence in this regard. Judge Serghei Țurcan also noted that none of the Party’s leaders have been convicted of committing acts of violence or inciting violence for political purposes.
  • The SHOR Party’s peaceful political activity in fact is in contrast to protests previously held by the PAS party. During 2017, the PAS Party organized several protests during which demonstrators tried to force their way into the national televisions station and several police officers were injured.
  • The dissolution of the SHOR Party was not a necessary measure in a democratic society. In order to fulfil that requirement, the measure in question must answer a ‘pressing social need’ and be proportionate to the ‘legitimate aim’ pursued. Further, the reasons adduced to justify it must be ‘relevant and sufficient’
  • The application also raises several elements disclosing a broader pattern of misuse of power including:

    - Public statements by high-ranking officials, including Ms Sandu and other PAS officials, calling for the imprisonment and conviction of political opponents, such as the Party’s leader, Mr Shor, and for the Party to be banned.

    - Political interference in the judicial system, including attempts to ‘cleanse’ the judiciary.

    - Restricting press freedom and exerting control over the media and the public’s access to information through the use of devolved emergency powers, including suspension of several media licenses.

    - The use of devolved emergency powers to obstruct peaceful public protests by removing protestors who ‘disrupted public order’ and allowing the ‘immediate suspension of protests without the involvement of local public authorities.’ These measures, which were requested by Ms Sandu, have been criticised by various observers including the Moldovan “People’s Advocate” (Ombudsman), Amnesty International, the Centre for Policies and Reforms (Moldova), Promo-Lex and Human Rights Embassy.

    - Attempts to overturn the outcome of legitimate elections, specifically in connection with the Government’s unfounded claim that the April 2023 gubernatorial elections in the autonomous region of Gagauzia.

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