A Russian Scientist in Latvia Is on Trial for a Thought Crime, Which Threatens 8 Years in Prison

On November 11th, a new trial start in the court of the Vidzemsky District of Riga concerning the second criminal case in which the Doctor of Economic Sciences, Professor, and Russian human rights defender Aleksandr Gaponenko is accused. Unlike the first case of “inciting ethnic strife”, for which the prosecution requires imprisonment for 1 year and 10 months, in the second case the Russian scientist is accused of activities against Latvia, for which a maximum term of imprisonment of 8 years is stipulated.

The correspondent of the Federal News Agency received first-hand information about the case – from the accused himself.

Going to Russia for heart surgery was refused

At the beginning it should only be noted that at the first hearing the prosecutor read out a short text of the prosecution, giving examples of “Gaponenko’s activities against Latvia”, which were based on his Facebook posts and consisted of predictions of the human rights defender (to some extent alarmist) and anxiety for the fate of the Russian population of the republic. The 65-year-old professor is also accused of forecasting possible military conflicts between Latvia and Russia, as well as between Russia and NATO.

It should be noted that in this case the same Jamestown Foundation from the United States, which recently issued a study according to which Moscow will lose the Kaliningrad region in the event of a military conflict in the Baltics, should be brought to justice.

For years, the Americans, including the former head of the State Department John Kerry, have been predicting Russian aggression in the Baltics, as if hypnotising experimental buratino with a non-existent threat in order to increase their defence spending. And today the Minister of Defense of Latvia Artis Pabriks happily voiced his thoughts about the purchase of combat helicopters and at least two American “Patriot” anti-missile systems.

But back to the courtroom. Aleksandr Gaponenko, after the prosecutor’s indictment speech, refused to confess to being guilty of anything, and also asked the judge to withdraw his travel ban, as he needed heart surgery, which was promised to do free of charge in a hospital in Moscow. In addition, the possibility of free movement would allow him to visit close relatives in Moscow and St. Petersburg, who he had not seen for a long time, as well as to present readers with a new book “The Battle of Youth” (unknown pages of Russian history) about the gradual transformation of Russian nationalities under Ivan Grozny into a Russian nation. Not to mention the international conference in Poland on the persecution of national minorities on November 14th – the human rights defender presented an invitation to the conference to the judge.

However, the prosecutor opposed, noting that the accused was involved in two criminal cases, and also in 2018 applied to the Russian leadership for political asylum. Therefore, according to the prosecution, Gaponenko may not return to Latvia and evade punishment.

Thus, it is easier to put an elderly scientist with a sick heart behind bars – which can have devastating consequences for the accused – than it is to allow him to improve his health at a Russian clinic. And there could be clearly no talk about a conference in Poland with such a problematic for Latvia agenda. Therefore, the judge, having formally taken an hour to think it over, made a verdict: to cancel the recognisance – a refusal.

“The Prosecutor-General’s Office decided to deal with me without bothering to collect much evidence”

“The Prosecutor’s Office decided to deal with me without bothering to collect much evidence,” commented Aleksandr Gaponenko. “Today the prosecutor read out an accusation, which abstractly says that I conducted activities against Latvia with my statements on Facebook. I found out what this activity is from the materials of my criminal case. Well, for example, I was invited as an international observer to the Russian presidential election. I participated in this election, and here my correspondence with the Chairman of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, about participation in these elections, as an observer, is a reason to charge me for anti-Latvian activities.”

Gaponenko gives an example of another kind of evidence, which concerns the publication of the book “Russian Doctrine”. He was only one of the co-authors of this book.

“It [the book] is also defined as anti-Latvian because indirectly this monograph, which I wrote, may have a negative impact on Latvia’s image. What is that? Am I being tried for a thought crime? For thinking wrong? What, the Constitution of Latvia, international treaties are no longer in force, and Latvia no longer has freedom of thought, conscience, and speech? asks the interlocutor of the FAN rhetorically. “And the criminal case covering 600 pages is full of such accusations. That I, for example, participated in the writing and publication of the book ‘Will there be World War III?’ The book was assembled by Marie Krarup, a member of the Danish Parliament. I gave my detailed vision, different points of view were presented along with mine, in particular, the current Minister of Defense of Latvia Pabriks (graduate of the philosophical faculty of the University of Latvia, the 53-year-old Artis Pabriks recently ‘famous’ for calling the legionaries of two Latvian Waffen SS divisions “heroes” and “the pride of the Latvian people and state” – ed). And the materials of this book are also grounds for accusing me of committing a crime against Latvia. Can’t one publish books anymore? And not only in Russia, but also in Europe?”

By the way, the presentation of the book in Copenhagen was attended by the Minister of Defense of Denmark, he listened to Gaponenko’s speech, then they spoke with each other.

“In Denmark it is normal when people express another point of view,” notes Gaponenko. “They did not agree with me, it was not required. Democracy requires different views to be expressed. Unfortunately, in Latvia this opportunity to express different views no longer exists. It is attempted to convict those who advocate democracy and defend free speech to 8 years in prison – this is what I risk just for speaking from a human rights position.”

At the last court hearing, the prosecutor also used materials from the previous court case on inciting ethnic strife. The correspondent of FAN asked the interlocutor why some of the materials are used in this criminal case as well?

“Because it is impossible to find any evidence that I incited discord, so materials from five years ago are used, in particular, a round table I held with the RIA Novosti agency, where the situation of national minorities in Latvia was discussed. My remarks during this exchange of views are presented as fuelling [ethnic] discord. And I just said that the Latvian state is putting pressure on national minorities and gave evidence: closing Russian schools, limiting opportunities for using the Russian language, pursuing Russian activists for this. The Prosecutor-General’s Office claims that this is false information. But how is it ‘false information’ when I was put in prison for 4 months (during the preliminary investigation – ed),” answered Gaponenko.

“[It turns out that] The persecution itself is not a crime, but the reports of persecution that I sent to the UN, to the Council of Europe, and to heads of state is a crime. The only one who stood up for me was Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, who sent a demand to the Latvian authorities to release the human rights defender. But nevertheless the trial is ongoing, the Prosecutor’s Office accuses me, trying to send me for a long time behind bars,” added Aleksandr Gaponenko.


Karen Markaryan

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