Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The cases of parents, the case of the journalists, and the case of a professor: the results of political repression in Latvia in 2018…
At the end of the year it is customary to sum up its results. I also decided to follow this tradition — I wrote something like a report about political repression in Latvia in 2018.
“Case of the parents”
The “case of parents” became the largest in terms of the number of people involved. An all-Latvian PTA meeting took place on March 31st in Riga in a conference room of the Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija. About 900 participants of the meeting expressed a negative attitude towards the transition of Russian schools to the Latvian language for teaching.
And on April 18th the Security Police started a criminal trial. Proceedings were initiated against 8 participants of the meeting, including me [Vladimir Linderman – ed], Aleksandr Gaponenko, the former European Parliament deputy Tatyana Zhdanok, the Saeima candidates from the Latvian Russian Union Viktor Gushchin and Evgeny Kryukov, and the journalist Alla Berezovskaya.
However, the “high” status of a suspect was given only to me. In May I was arrested, I spent two weeks in the Riga central prison, and afterwards my measure of restraint was changed. Now I am under police surveillance and am not allowed to leave the country.
Three articles of the Criminal law were presented to me: “activity against Latvia”, “kindling national hatred”, and “preparation of mass riots”. By “kindling” they mean my speech at a meeting where I, among other things, said that the Latvian people almost unanimously support the anti-Russian policy of the authorities.
The “case of parents” is an unprecedented and impudent violation of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, which guarantees the right to freedom of assembly. The purpose is obvious: to intimidate everyone who tries to defend education in the Russian language.
Charges so confused that business, perhaps, will also not come to court. Though I would prefer that the court took place. At us there aren’t a lot of opportunities to clash with the opponent in an open duel, it is necessary to use any.
“Case of the journalists”
On the 23rd of November the Security Police detained the owner and employees of the “IMHOclub.lv” website: Yury Alekseyev, Dmitry Sumarokov, and Pyotr Podgorodny. The court rejected the petition of the Security Police for arrest, and a measure of restraint not connected with imprisonment was imposed on the suspects.
“Activity against Latvia” and “helping a foreign state in its activity aimed against Latvia” was presented to all three of them. In addition, Alekseyev is suspected of “justifying crimes against humanity” (allegedly, for his publications about the deportation of Crimean Tatars from Crimea during the WW2).
I see two main aims that the Security Police and its political curators pursue in the “case of the journalists”. The first: to liquidate “IMHOclub.lv”. The website published different — sometimes polar — opinions, but it was the only platform where the most irreconcilable opponents of the government could be freely published.
The second aim: to activate and oil article 81-1 of the Criminal law adopted by the Saeima two and a half years ago. This article, which I call “light espionage”, punishes for help given to a foreign state (read — Russia) in its anti-Latvian activity. The formulation is extremely vague and allows to interpret any political, commercial, and humanitarian contacts with Russian organisations as a crime.
I think that the Security Police will do everything possible in order to drag the “Alekseyev-Sumarokov-Podgorodny case” to the court. This is dictated by a political need.
The authorities need leverage in order to seed lots of fear so that every Latvian resident thinks: God forbid that I am seen having “criminal” ties with Russia.
Case of the professor
On the 20th of April the Security Police detained Alekandr Gaponenko. After this he was arrested and spent four months in the Riga central prison. The prosecutor’s office already brought charges and the date of the court hearing will soon be appointed. The articles he is charged under are from the standard “collection” (see the “case of the parents” and the “case of journalists”).
Gaponenko’s arrest caused a big resonance in Latvia and beyond its borders. I believe that the Security Police hoped to cash in on the detainee by obtaining a frank recognition of guilt from him. Since he is a middle-aged person with health problems who never sat in jail before, they hoped to rely on this. But things didn’t turn out this way.
Probably, Aleksandr Gaponenko will become the first resident of Latvia who will be judged for “helping Russia in its activity aimed against the Republic of Latvia”. It is important for them to draw the maximum amount of attention to this process.
I won’t speak about other cases in detail, I will only offer a short reminder.
The activist from the Russian schools defence HQ Ilya Kozyrev was detained by the Security Police, and a criminal trial was launched against him under this same article 81-1 (“helping a foreign state”). I don’t know the details, but I assume that Kozyrev is blamed for his appeal to the leadership of Russia, where he urged to impose personal sanctions against the sponsors of the Latvian parties that voted for the liquidation of Russian schools.
The case against Yury Alekseyev started in December 2017 (bullets, kindling comments, porno) has been brought to trial. My opinion is that the charges are fabricated, and the story about bullets is a carbon copy of the case opened against me 16 years ago, when an explosive was suddenly “found” in my armchair.
Deniss Barteckis was charged with appealing to liquidate the independence of Latvia via its accession to another state. As a reminder, Barteckis published a petition on the website avaaz.org in which he urged to attach Latvia to the US. In such a paradoxical way he wanted to defend Maksim Koptelov, who on the same website suggested to attach Latvia to Russia, from being charged. But the Security Police and the prosecutor’s office didn’t catch on to the sense of either the humour or the human rights nature of the action. This is an illustrative example of how the punitive machine starts working “on automatic”, reaching the point of absurdity.
It is also worth remembering about the espionage processes that either continued or started in 2018. All three cases concern espionage in favour of Russia. The railway worker from Jelgava Aleksandr Krasnoperov was condemned to three years of jail by the court of second instance. The inhabitant of Alūksne Yury Stilve received a conditional 3-year sentence. In October the retired officer of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Oleg Burak was arrested and is now in prison. He is charged under the heavier part of the “espionage” article — handing over a state secret.
Espionage affairs are classified, but some information nevertheless filters out, and generates big doubts about real espionage. It’s more probable that intelligence agencies implement a plan to capture “Russian spies”.
I will end with a short generalisation. In 2018 in Latvia there was a sharp jump in the amount of political repression. All persecution is in this or that way connected to the “Russian question”: either standing in defence of the interests of the Russian community of Latvia, or possessing ties with Russia – real or fictional.
A blow is being struck against freedom of speech — the authorities actually don’t have anything to present to the vast majority of those who were subjected to persecution, other than they wrote or said something.
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