The Moldovan Information and Security Service (SIS) has blocked 31 pro-Russia media sites ahead of the country’s local elections on 5 November.
The head of the SIS, Alexandru Musteata, said he signed the order in an effort to prevent pro-Russia media outlets from spreading false information.
Of the 31 sites blocked by the secret service, some 21 are purportedly directly related to Russia. These sites include some of the most popular Russian-language websites in Moldova, such as Russian news agency Tass and newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.
“The content of the information disseminated by these sites in the public arena can generate tensions or social conflicts,” Musteata told reporters.
Media non-government organizations have expressed criticism over the move, arguing that the SIS needs to produce substantial evidence for the decision to shut down pro-Russia media sites.
Moldova’s media regulatory body, the Audiovisual Council, has also suspended the broadcast licenses of six TV stations. The TV stations singled out for suspension are Orizont TV, ITV, Prime, Publika TV, Canal 2 and Canal 3.
Orizont TV and ITV are owned through intermediaries by fugitive Moldovan oligarch Ilan Shor. The other four channels are owned by fugitive oligarch Vladimir Platohniuc.
The Audiovisual Council’s decision to suspend the TV stations’ licenses follows a recommendation by the SIS. The management bodies of the suspended stations, however, have accused the government of targeting the media without legal standing.
Shor has also accused Moldova’s ruling party of shutting down opposition media outlets.
A number of media non-government organizations, including the Centre for Independent Journalism, the Electronic Press Association, RISE Moldova and the Access-Info Centre, have also voiced concern over the decision to suspend the channels and shut down websites. They said authorities had not provided sufficient explanations of the factual and legal circumstances that would justify the move.
“The signatory NGOs ask the authorities to communicate without delay the arguments and evidence that were the basis of the decision of the Commission for Exceptional Situations to close these sites and to suspend the license of the six television stations,” said the group of NGOs in a statement.
President Maia Sandu defended the move to shut down stations, citing the need to defend democratic values and protect Moldova from Russian interference in the electoral process.
Ethnic Russians make up just four percent of Moldova’s population. Even so, the media landscape in the country is dominated by Russian-language media outlets.
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