For the “Russian Lives Matter” Meme in Latvia, One Faces Four Life Sentences

The other day, my friend, well-known Russian journalist Yury Georgievich Alekseyev, was transferred by the Latvian Prosecutor’s Office from the status of “suspect” to the status of “accused” in another case. He is charged under three articles of the Criminal Code of Latvia: inciting ethnic hatred, trying to destroy the state and seize power in it, and acting in favour of a foreign state. In general, for everything and about everything, the journalist faces 25 years in prison.

What criminal actions have been charged to Alekseyev by the Prosecutor’s Office for him to face such terrible punishment?

Writing several hundred talented critical articles in the last five years that defended the right of Latvian Russians to life. Life in the broadest sense of the word. The right to speak Russian. The right to teach children in their native Russian. The right to have their own historical memory. The right to watch TV and listen to radio programs in Russian. The right to honour the memory of their ancestors. The right not to recognise themselves as lice, genetic garbage and low intellectual beings, which Latvian deputies call Russians. The right to think in Russian. The right to develop and disseminate one’s own opinion. Without all this, Russians cease to be Russians as an ethnic community. All these rights can be expressed in one meme: “Russian lives matter” or in English abbreviated as RLM. This is a copy of the recently widespread meme Black lives matter – BLM.

Now the case of the accused Alekseyev will be transferred to the court, and he will join me, whom the Prosecutor’s Office has accused of the same terrible crimes. Over the past five years I have written articles that are less critical and not as talented as those of Yury, but I have published four voluminous monographs in which I share with readers my thoughts on the fate of Latvian Russians. These monographs have been widely distributed among the European scientific community. This is probably why the Prosecutor’s Office sent the materials on me to the court two years earlier than they did vis-a-vis Yury. I also face 25 years in prison for the combination of the same charges, i.e. for the RLM meme.

Thus, at the moment we have the fact of the prosecution of a group of publicists who believe that Russians, as an ethnic community, have the right to life in Latvia. I would like to note that the case of journalist Aleksandr Filey is still in court, and journalist Vladimir Linderman is under investigation, and the list of those who are being persecuted, unfortunately, does not end there.

The 25-year prison sentence requested by the Prosecutor’s Office for us, given the considerable age and state of health, is at least four terms of life imprisonment. Fortunately, the death penalty has been abolished in Europe, otherwise the Latvian Prosecutor’s Office, no doubt, would have requested that it be applied to such terrible criminals as us.

In the judicial practice of Latvia, there were no previous cases when the Prosecutor’s Office demanded that the court apply such cruel punishments against criminals. For serial killers, much more modest prison sentences were required.

In Europe, only the case of Anders Breivik can be mentioned as a judicial precedent. This Norwegian blew up a bus with explosives in a public place, and then shot the children of members of the country’s ruling elite in a camp. A total of 77 people were killed. The court sentenced Breivik to 21 years in prison. Given his age and good health, this is one term of life imprisonment.

When conducting a cynical, but quite rational calculation of the proportion “the number of people killed – the number of years in prison”, it turns out that I and Alekseyev, each separately, are guilty of the death of 300 people. And in the aggregate, the Prosecutor’s Office accuses us of a crime equal to the destruction of an entire battalion of wartime equipment.

It may be objected to me that, fearing punishment for the criminal acts committed, I exaggerate the danger of a court pronouncing a condemning sentence. They say that the case is a mistake of some small Prosecutor’s employee and the court will definitely correct this mistake.

I can assure you that there is no mistake. At the beginning of my prosecution in 2018, President R. Vējonis, Prime Minister M. Kučinskis and Interior Minister R. Kozlovskis publicly called for the use of maximum punishment against me. Only on the basis of their appeals, without having a single fact in the case confirming my guilt, the investigating judge put me in prison for four months. I was released from prison before my trial only at the insistence of the EU Commissioner for Human Rights, who was well aware of my previous human rights activities.

I wrote about all these tricks of the Latvian justice system in my complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. The ECHR, aware of the absurdity of the process initiated by the Prosecutor’s Office, proposed to Latvia to settle and pay me a modest financial compensation for the material and moral damage caused. I agreed to this offer, but Latvia did not! Recently, the National Security Council convened, which was attended by the new President E. Levits, Prime Minister K. Kariņš and a number of other senior officials of the country. At the meeting of the National Security Council, the proposal of the ECHR to conclude a settlement agreement was indignantly rejected. I am still being prosecuted in Latvia. The constitution and signed international conventions regarding freedom of conscience and freedom of speech on the territory of Latvia, it turns out, do not apply if it concerns spreading the RLM meme.

So, the Prosecutor’s Office indeed demands the use of the public death penalty against a group of Russian publicists only for spreading their views – protection of the RLM principle? The answer to this rhetorical question is given by an appeal to ancient history.

In Ancient Rome, for example, there was a practice of publicly executing captured foreigners. This allowed all the citizens of the capital of the world, outside the battlefield, to symbolically assert their superiority over foreign enemies and keep those who were spared their lives and enslaved in obedience by fear. The sacrifice of foreign captives was abolished in Rome only in 97 BC, i.e., 500 years after the emergence of the ethnic community of the Romans. However, the practice continued for several more centuries, only in the form of gladiatorial fights, in which foreign slaves participated. The struggle against alternative ideas and their carriers in Rome appeared later, with the approval of the cult of worship of the Emperor. Back then the death penalty was imposed on those who dared to deny the divine origin of the highest rulers.

The practice of destroying people who carried ideas that don’t please the ruling elite continued in Medieval Europe. Back then people who professed other views – heretics – were burned at the stake en masse. This practice was called the beautiful phrase auto da fé – an act of faith. Auto da fés were arranged on the eve of great religious holidays, on the main square of the city. The event attracted crowds of ordinary people. They appeared at the execution in festive clothes. A group of heretics were punished at once. The convicts were brought to the square in a solemn procession with candles in their hands, in “shameful” clothes, and barefoot. The priest preached a sermon, then a prayer, after which those present swore to obey and help the inquisition in the persecution of dissenters. Then the verdict was read. Then unrepentant criminals surrendered to the secular authorities, which actually organised their burning at the stake.

Auto da fé was widely practiced until the mid-18th century. The procedure for identifying the perpetrators during the trial was well developed. This is how, for example, the grounds for starting a trial were described in the well-known manual on combating heretics “The Hammer of Witches”, compiled by the venerable Henricus Institor:

“(1) If any one accuses any one in front of a judge of committing the crime of heresy or of patronising heretics. However, such a prosecutor must be prepared to present evidence. If they cannot provide such evidence, they may be punished for false information.

2) If the charge is brought by a denunciator (informer) who does not vouch for the reliability of his testimony and does not undertake to prove it. He claims only that he denounces a heretic out of zeal for the faith, or in order to avoid excommunication for concealing heresy or the punishment that a secular judge faces.

3) If a rumour has reached the ears of the inquisitors that in such and such a city there are witches who do this and that. This is an accusation by the inquisition. In this case, the inquisitor begins to act not on the instructions of any accuser, but on their own initiative.”

Alekseyev and I definitely fit the third rationale – the secret services, and then the Prosecutor’s Office, heard the rumour that we were spreading the RLM meme.

After reading the instructions for fighting witches, I was surprised to find that it had already been fully applied to me and Alekseyev. For example, this part:

“If the witches, despite threats and promises of life, continue to persist, then let the executioners carry out the sentence of torture in the usual way, without resorting to any new or refined techniques. Witches are subjected to lighter or more painful tortures, depending on the severity of the crime.

If the moderately tortured person continues to refuse to speak, other instruments of torture are laid out in front of them, and they are warned that they will be used against them if they do not tell the truth. If they persist after this, the sentence of continuing the interrogation under torture on the second or third day is read in their presence.”

Riga has always been enthusiastic about all the cultural innovations in Europe. A considerable number of heretics, including witches, were burned in it. The latter were accused mainly of having spiritual ties with the devil. History has preserved information about a certain Riga sorcerer Catherine Shvoster of Latvian origin. According to the denunciation of a German neighbour, whom she obviously did not want to share a bed with, she was accused of being a witch. Under torture, Catherine quickly confessed to the crime. And she was burned at the town hall square with a gathering of almost all the inhabitants of the city, dressed up for this in festive clothes.

Is there any hope that the ECHR will make a positive decision on my claim and reject the attempt to revive the practice of auto da fé in Riga against dissidents? Can I, and therefore Yury Alekseyev and other RLM meme spreaders, avoid an act of faith? There is such a hope, but it is extremely small. And then, the laws of the European Union do not apply on the territory of Latvia.

Therefore, when I leave the house in the evening to take a walk in the pre-holiday days, I instinctively reach the town hall square. I wonder if the construction of two wooden platforms with a pole in the middle has begun on it, or if a crowd of burghers in festive clothes is gathering. After making sure that the town hall square is deserted, I return home. Until the next holiday, it is possible to return to a detailed study of the “The Hammer of Witches” and compare its provisions with the provisions of one’s criminal case.

In the photo, the town hall square in Riga, where platforms are usually built for performing auto da fé.

Aleksandr Gaponenko

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