Wednesday, April 7, 2010

(ANALYSIS) Moldova commemorates April 7 repression as one of the suspected killers of an anti-Communist protester is detained

The last few days in the country have been dominated by campaigns to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the anti-Communist protests on April 7 and the repression campaign that followed.

On April 7, peaceful protests degenerated into the vandalization of the Parliamentary and Presidential buildings, as well as clashes between demonstrators and police forces. It is still unclear who the perpetrators were, as many have suggested that provocators were infiltrated in the crowd to derail the anti-Communist demonstration.

What is known, however, is that the repression campaign that followed on the night of April 7 and for a few days after ended with the detention of over 700 people, the torture of about 300, and a number of deaths.

The death of Valeriu Boboc, a young father and husband, has been the most covered by Moldovan media outlets. Mr. Boboc was most likely beaten to death by police forces in downtown Chisinau on the night of April 7. Initially, Communist authorities at the time suggested that the protester had died because of an intoxication with an unknown substance, but this announcement was widely rejected after pictures of Mr. Boboc's dead body showed a large dent in his head and numerous bruises.

This weekend, details about Mr. Boboc's death may have surfaced. Liberal Party head Mihai Ghimpu, who is Speaker and interim President, as well as Chisinau mayor Dorin Chirtoaca (the deputy head of the Liberal Party) recently presented previously unseen footage from the night of April 7, which shows police forces savagely beating protesters and throwing them in cars. At one point in the 11-minute film, shot from the top of the Government building, two motionless bodies are lying on the ground. One of the bodies is assumed to have been Valeriu Boboc's, who just a few seconds before was kicked in the head by a police officer dressed in a sweatsuit.

The other body was Damian Hincu's. Mr. Hincu is a student at a French university, and survived the beatings. Shocking pictures of his body, black and blue from police abuse, began to circulate in media outlets almost immediately after April 7, showing the harshness of the repression campaign on that night and in police stations later.

Mr. Hincu later said that he was afraid he was going to die, and asked someone to give his belongings to his mother should that happen. He also spoke about the abuses that occurred in police stations as young men and women were beaten until unconscious and were not allowed to see a lawyer. A number of judges held trials in these stations, which is unconstitutional. One judge has been fired because of this.

Mr. Hincu's mother was later told by police offers to go to the morgue to find his son despite the fact that he was not dead. Numerous parents had similar experiences, as they began looking for their missing children on April 8 and on. At the time, television stations showed these parents waiting desperately outside of police stations, begging police officers to tell them where their children were.

Mr. Hincu has recently decided to reveal his identity and to testify in Valeriu Boboc's case if he gets protection. He has also told the press that he can recognize the faces of a few police officers that beat him and Mr. Boboc, some of whom said "this guy's finished," referring to Mr. Boboc's lifeless body.

Chisinau mayor Dorin Chirtoaca has already offered prosecutors a number of names of police officers who were allegedly beating protesters in downtown Chisinau, including former Chisinau police chief Iacob Gumenita. The footage the Liberal representatives presented shows faces relatively clearly. Another tape, this time with footage captured on the ground, also reveals the faces of tens of police officers chasing young men and women and beating them.

In the political community, the members of the ruling Alliance, which the Communists accused of attempting to stage a coup d'etat at the time, have condemned the violent actions of the police and have announced that one police officer suspected of killing Mr. Boboc has been arrested. Several others have been suspended. Interior Minister Victor Catan has accused Communist-appointed Interior Minister Gheorghe Papuc of calling in special forces to beat protesters on that night. Mr. Papuc has been unable to testify in a number of cases filed against him by prosecutors by claiming health problems and checking himself into the hospital at the end of March.

In contrast, the Party of Communists released a press statement accusing the ruling coalition of turning the "April 7 pogrom into a national holiday" and arguing that "the coup d'etat continues." In addition, the head of an organization that protects the rights of security forces has accused the Alliance of being biased in the presentation of police action on the night of April 7 and has accused Mr. Boboc of having a criminal record.

After one entire year, Moldova looks somewhat different in April 2010. The Communists are in the opposition, the former opposition parties have formed an Alliance, and some police officers are being investigated for abuses.

There are, however, more questions than answers. It is still unclear why the protests turned violent and who ordered the repression campaign. Chances are that these answers will not be swiftly forthcoming since Moldova could be on the brink of another early electoral campaign for Parliament. In a year, local elections will also be held.

The most serious consequence of April 7, however, is the physical and psychological abuse to which young, educated, and pro-Western people were subjected in downtown Chisinau and in police stations. They were and continue to be the main victims of a country in which democracy, the rule of law, and human rights are still lacking.

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