What's wrong with the classified sentence in the Turkish teachers case?
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on September 10.
On September 8, Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo took many by surprise by revealing that Vasile Botnari, former Security and Intelligence Service director, was secretly sentenced – already a month ago – in the shameful case of the seven Turkish teachers. (For a quick explainer on what the case is about, see “A few further questions for the prosecutors in the shameful affair of the Turkish teachers”)
Stoianoglo went on to add that Botnari would not serve any actual jail time, having been ordered to compensate the government for the damages awarded in the case by the European Court of Human Rights, plus the costs of the charter flight that delivered the poor teachers into the pitiless hands of the Erdoğan regime. It appears from Stoianoglo’s words that Botnari, a former public servant, already paid the hefty amount of €127,000 in total, more than what a SIS director makes in 10 years.
But two days after Stoianoglo’s revelation, MP Sergiu Litvinenco (PAS) published a snapshot of the ruling’s operative part, the one that states what the court has ordered or decreed. It seems that the ex-SIS director got off with only a fine. No mention of any damages. The opposition lawmaker speculates that the prosecutors deliberately failed to appeal the ruling, and Stoianoglo’s disclosure came so late, in order that the appeal period could expire.
The ruling in this sensitive case, in either iteration – and, indeed, the secrecy around it – seems so wrong in so many ways, it’s hard to choose where to begin.
Veil of secrecy, web of lies
In all fairness, PG Stoianoglo said he requested the court to at least make available the operative part of an otherwise fully classified ruling. Indeed, the Botnari case is nowhere to be found in the online court calendars or the national case-law database, and the public wasn’t able to learn about the sentence until the prosecutor general did us the favor.
In fact, the authorities have cloaked the case with a “top secret” and “matter of national security” veil from the very beginning. But while the Plahotniuc-era parliamentary commission supervising intelligence activities cared to offer at least some details, albeit unconvincing and brazenly untruthful, the new leadership of the commission was, disappointingly, even more cryptic about the case. MP Chiril Moțpan, the (already replaced) chairman of the National Security Commission, is the vice president of a party called Dignity and Truth, no less.
In other words, the general public had been constantly and consistently barred from knowing any details about the progress of the investigation, and the moment of revelation was supposed to come with the sentencing of those responsible (the plural was initially used). In contrast, the European Court of Human Rights had already issued an entirely public judgment on the case, finding the Moldovan government guilty of serious violations. And despite all the secrecy of the investigation and trial, there has been general consensus that the kidnapping of the seven teachers couldn’t have happened without the knowledge, at the very least, of top political leaders – the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, the ex-Speaker Andrian Candu, and President Igor Dodon. In fact, Stoianoglo has himself admitted that Botnari acted on instructions from higher-ups, alluding to Plahotniuc in particular.
What’s wrong with the secrecy of the ruling?
The Code of Criminal Procedure does allow, as an exception from the open court principle enshrined in the Constitution, holding judicial proceedings behind closed doors when this is done “in the interest of national security.” But the law clarifies that, in all cases without exception, judgments must be delivered in public sittings. In other words, the prosecutor general shouldn’t petition the court to declassify the operative part of the ruling in the Botnari case; it should be public by law.
Moreover, it’s also against the law to fully classify the part of a judgment that states the court’s findings and opinions. The rules for publishing court decisions allow blacking out sensitive bits of information where national security is involved and when the court “deems it absolutely necessary.” Names can also be concealed in some conditions, but not the whole thing.
Bottom line, the fact that the judgment is not published on the case-law portal is a violation of national laws and rules. It’s a direct violation of the Moldovan Constitution. Moreover, it contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights.
What’s wrong with the ‘state secret’ seal on this ruling?
Classifying the ruling under the State Secret Act would also be against the law, as the act explicitly excludes “violations of human rights and freedoms” from the list of classifiable information. The ECHR judgment existing in this case clearly attests to the human rights nature of the violations.
The State Secret Act also forbids classifying any “violations committed by public authorities or persons in positions of public authority.” The Botnari case perfectly fits the definition: the head of the most important intelligence agency who was charged with abuse of authority.
So no, the “state secret” seal cannot be legitimately affixed to the Botnari case and the public deserves to know how exactly the seven Turkish teachers were abducted and who (else) was responsible.
Who benefits from the secrecy?
Clearly not us the citizens. And not the victims of this case. Not their families. In theory, not even the Prosecutor General’s Office, whose silence over the past month and failure to appeal the ruling – and the possible lies of Prosecutor General Stoianoglo – have cast it in a particularly bad light. The PGO should know that the operative part of any court decision must be public, and that the state secret classification is not applicable here.
In a state governed by the rule of law, justice should be carried out publicly, not behind closed doors, precisely so that judges can be accountable for their decisions. When serious human rights violations are involved, especially violations committed by the government, it is crucial not only to see a sentence, but also see how a sentence is delivered, so that we are convinced that justice has been served.
From the very beginning of the scandal with the seven abducted Turkish teachers, the Moldovan authorities have tried hard to keep the whole affair cloaked in secrecy. The SIS claimed that it acted legally, but failed to show us any evidence on the pretext of their classified nature. Under two different leaderships, the parliamentary committee supervising intelligence activities heard SIS executives behind closed doors, to first tell us that the evidence was convincing, and then conclude that there had been a violation, but without giving us any details. The PGO, for its part, let Botnari take all the blame on himself, letting other suspects off the hook and completing the investigation with plenty of questions left unanswered. Then, despite the heavy burden of being the sole accused, the former SIS director, we learn, won’t even serve a real prison term.
It’s been a month since the ruling was issued and nobody cared to inform the public: not the prosecutors, not the court, not the Ministry of Justice, not the National Security Commission, no one. The judgment has been classified, in violation of national laws and the Constitution, and to this day it’s not clear yet if Botnari received a suspended sentence, as PG Stoianoglo claims, or got off with just a fine, as MP Litvinenco showed.
Alexandr Stoianoglo frequently complains, when speaking of other investigations, that there are judges and prosecutors who throw wrenches into the works. But, in this case, PG Stoianoglo seems to have acted in complete harmony with the system he is criticizing, contributing to the whole cover-up.
The abduction and deportation of the seven Turkish teachers is one of the ugliest and most shameful episodes in Moldova’s recent history. When the Plahotniuc regime fell, we were promised justice and truth. We haven’t seen either.
This article is free for republication. Thanks for including credits and links.
You can also find us on Telegram.
[Sergiu Litvinenco: Dovada clară că procurorul general a mințit o țară întreagă] (https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=881987618993339&id=100015463279463), facebook.com ↩︎
[Sergiu Litvinenco: Am primit o informație care m-a șocat de-a dreptul] (https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=881925525666215&id=100015463279463), facebook.com ↩︎
Verdict cu grif (sic!) ”SECRET” în cazul profesorilor turci, procuratura.md ↩︎
[Cazul expulzării profesorilor turci: audieri cu ușile închise și prea puține răspunsuri] (https://moldova.europalibera.org/a/cazul-expulzării-profesorilor-turci-audieri-cu-ușile-închise-și-prea-puține-răspunsuri-/30085292.html), moldova.europalibera.org ↩︎
[Regulament privind modul de publicare a hotărârilor judecătoreşti pe portalul național al instanțelor de judecată][https://www.legis.md/cautare/getResults?doc_id=104157&lang=ro], legis.md ↩︎
CASE OF OZDIL AND OTHERS v. THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA, hudoc.echr.coe.int ↩︎