15 Years in Prison for the “Enemy of the State”: The Trial of Yury Alekseyev Started in Riga

“I am a diverse defendant – in my trial there are criminal charges for inciting national enmity and hatred, for possession of ammunition, and even child pornography. All these absurd accusations I completely deny,” said Yury Alekseyev

The trial of the editor-in-chief of the Latvian website “imhoclub.lv” Yury Alekseyev started in the Pārdaugava City Court on the street with the telling name Mazā Nometņu – “Little Camp”. About 30 people supporting the journalist, friends, and colleagues who work at different media agencies came to Āgenskalns for the trial, which was initially declared open. Unquestionably, Alekseyev is one of the boldest journalists in Latvia. He continued to work according to his beliefs, even though the amendments to the Criminal Law adopted in 2015 could use the article on “anti-state activities” against almost everyone holding a different view than that of the authorities.

Political amendments to the Criminal Law were actively lobbied by the State Security Service of Latvia. Although article 100 of the Latvian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech in the Republic, has not disappeared from the basic law of the country, criminal articles with the phrase “espionage”, “activities against the sovereignty of the Latvian Republic”, etc., against many residents of our country are currently in the proceedings of the SBS. Remember Stalin’s 58th article, which horrified everyone from liberals to nationalists? Now the legitimacy of political repression is enshrined in article 80 in the Criminal Law of Latvia, under which, and not only theoretically, any resident and even tourist on the territory of the country can fall.

Shameful process

Yury Alekseyev is the subject of two criminal trials, in which six articles of the Criminal Law are combined. The judge of the Pārdaugava Court Vanagi, Prosecutor Brok, and lawyer Jansone began consideration of the first trial on February 25th, in which the investigation was fully completed. The charges against Alekseyev are brought under the following articles of the Criminal Law:

Article. 233: “Illicit manufacture, acquisition, storage, and sale of weapons, ammunition, and explosives”. In this case, the prosecutor of the trial, Mrs. Brok, considers proven the discovery by the SGB during the search of the defendant’s apartment of ammunition for a Makarov 9 mm pistol, which was in a cache in a bulb enclosure. The maximum penalty in part 2 of this article is up to five years of imprisonment;

Article. 78: “Actions deliberately aimed at inciting national or racial enmity or discord”. The penalty ceiling, also under part 2 of this article, is imprisonment for up to 10 years. It is clear that this charge is directly related to the professional activities of the accused; Yury Alekseyev, it is worth admitting, has never been a conformist and has not expressed his loyalty to the “success story of Latvia”, as it is said in most media. On the contrary, he is characterised by harsh sarcasm in criticising the domestic and foreign policy of the Latvian state. But did the defendant knowingly cause enmity or discord? And did he agitate at all? These questions are to be answered by Judge Vanagi.

Article. 166: “Possession of pornographic material that describes or depicts the sexual use of children, sexual acts of people with animals, necrophilia or pornographic violence, and possession of such material for the same purpose”. This article is particularly puzzling – knowing Alekseyev for more than 20 years as a person, certainly with absolutely healthy priorities, repeatedly married, and not indifferent to women, what can child pornography be? According to the defendant’s lawyer Imma Jansone, these materials were found by the SGB experts on the hard disk of Alekseyev’s computer a year after the search and seizure of the disk – perhaps they were put on the drive by the SGB.

These are only the first three articles of the first trial against Alekseyev.

In the second trial, concerning which the SGB has not yet completed the investigation, there are also three criminal episodes, including suspicion under part one of article 80 of the Criminal Code of Latvia and part two – “Activities against the Republic of Latvia”. The Latvian Saeima amended this article as a matter of urgency in spring 2016. The Parliamentary Commission on National Security, led at that time by Solvita Āboltiņa, pointed to the need for urgent “changes in legal regulation in accordance with modern challenges”, namely the criminalisation of anti-state actions in the format of “hybrid and information warfare”. Under paragraph 2 of article 80 alone Alekseyev can receive a sentence of 15 years in prison. He has 6 different articles!

“On November 18th 2018 the SBS searched my house, I’ve been on a no-fly list for almost a year, and three times a week I have to be registered in the police department. I also have no right to publish articles on the imhoclub.lv website. The investigation in the case ‘I vs. State’ can be carried out under legislation for 22 months, then extended for 3 months – and I have not seen the SBS once since the search. The guys do not hurry. The most important thing is not to jail people in accordance with the law, the most important thing is fear,” says Yury Alekseyev.

From porn to animals: how disloyalty is snapped in Latvia

The trial started with a slight delay. Quite unexpectedly, Judge Vanagi ruled that the trial would be closed. Motivation – in the materials of the investigation there are pornographic materials, the public dissemination of which is unacceptable for the morality of society. According to the defender Jansone, this article is introduced in the case of Alekseyev, it is possible that the process was closed. The same opinion is held by Professor Aleksandr Gaponenko, also accused by the SBS on a number of articles – from state treason to bestiality.

“According to the investigation materials, Alekseyev has ‘child porn’, while I have ‘bestiality’ for diversity. I love animals, but not as fabricated in my case. And my case also includes an article on treason. In the 800-page folder of my case there are materials about my trip to Moscow as an observer of the Russian presidential election. The conclusion there is made by SGB investigator Regelis and Prosecutor Skalbe that I am guilty. Skalbe never called me for questioning at least on the fact of the torture that I was subjected to after my arrest,” says Gaponenko.

The only political force that stood on the side of Alekseev was the Russian Union of Latvia party.

“The criminal trials of Alekseyev, Gaponenko, Linderman, and Burak are clearly political,” said to Sputnik the Chairman of the Latvian Russian Union Miroslav Mitrofanov. “These processes have nothing to do with democracy and freedom of speech. Obviously, the SGB in the trial of Alekseyev does not need openness of the process. He was accused of possessing child pornography in order to throw mud at him and hide the process behind closed doors. Prosecutor Brok didn’t want to be laughed at.”

The witnesses of Alekseyev were removed from the courtroom, the witness from the prosecution Marek Zhuravlev did not appear at 36 Mazā Nometņu at all.

The next hearing of the court concerning the case of Alekseyev will take place on May 26th.

As the defendant himself said, he waited a long time for the process to begin, tired of being in conditions that limited his professional and human freedom – and although, theoretically, 15 years of jail are ahead of him, it is better than obscurity.

Māris Dalbiņš

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