Seeking Political Asylum in Russia: Another Activist Escaped From Latvia

NEW – July 21, 2022

“They threw me on the floor, twisted my arms, handcuffed me, and started hitting me. They even stood on me.” The story of activist Aleksandr Tsvetkov, who was forced to flee Latvia due to the excessive pressure and barbaric actions of local intelligence agencies

Another Russian-speaking activist, Aleksandr Tsvetkov, escaped from Latvia to Belarus. The Sputnik Latvia correspondent managed to get an exclusive interview with him.

It seems that Belarus and the “visa-free” with this country are becoming the last straw that Latvian activists who have encountered the State Security Service (SSS) of Latvia are grasping at. The intelligence agencies are already working without brakes – they slight the population even for “likes” and pictures on social networks. And if a person has their own civil position that is at odds with the official course of Riga, and even expresses sympathy for Russia, they can expect trouble.

Aleksandr Tsvetkov, a native of the Latgalian city of Rēzekne, lived in Daugavpils in recent years and refused to put up with the fact that the Russian language is banned, Russian schools are closed, and nationalist-minded deputies, right from the rostrum of the Saeima, calmly demand to reduce the number of “occupiers” (read – the Russian-speaking population) from 40 up to 5%.

He wrote statements to all state authorities, starting with the Ministry of Health and the Saeima and ending with the State Security Service, asking them to stop bullying the Russian-speaking population of Latvia. And waited until they came for him.

They broke down the door, fired a stun gun, jumped on my body

“On the sixth of April, around 8-9 in the morning, nine employees of the State Security Service, eight of whom were wearing masks, broke into my house, breaking down the doors. Even an IT guy. Only the investigator did not hide his face. Two municipal policemen and three state police officers followed. It turns out that there were 14 of them in total,” Aleksandr Tsvetkov recalls. “I was later told how it was seen from other houses – the entrance was surrounded, all exits were blocked, as if they were taking a real recidivist. It’s strange that they didn’t break into me through the windows on cables.”

When the activist realised who was breaking down his door, he sat on the bed and began filming what was happening on his phone camera. This pissed off the security forces even more when they broke into the apartment. From the threshold, they shot Aleksandr twice with a remote stun gun, passing a powerful electric shock through his chest and stomach.

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“And then they threw me on the floor, twisted my arms, handcuffed me, started hitting me. They even stood on me. Never in my life has it happened that my whole body was bruised. Then they sat me on a stool and began to bombard me with questions. it was just a flurry. Why so many Russian flags, where my relatives work, where did the bayonet-knife come from, why do I hate Latvians… They opened the notebook and began to ask who was who. ‘Look at the floor!’ And at the same time they began to randomly search the apartment, scattering things,” Aleksandr re-experiences what happened.

He was outraged that all the Russian flags found by the SSS officers were thrown in the centre of the room, and then they markedly stamped on them. It was possible to simply place them to the side, but, apparently, this was done on purpose.

“They said that I write a lot, I speak out. And they presented several criminal articles, one of which, like Aleksandr Dubyago (the guy with the flag – ed.), is ‘denial of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes’, the other is ‘inciting ethnic strife against Latvians, Ukrainians and Lithuanians’. For my comments on one website. And on the third they didn’t speak clearly right away, only indirectly that this could be connected with espionage and Russia. Then they put me in a minibus, put on a blindfold, dark glasses, headphones, and they took me to the police department of Daugavpils,” the activist continues.

Aleksandr noted that the State Police treated him completely differently: they immediately asked who had inflicted so many beatings on him, recorded everything in the protocol. They even offered to remove the camera of the temporary detention facility where he had been placed.

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“They released me after 47 hours. A man came in a white striped shirt, dark trousers, refused to give his last name and even his place of work. ‘They told me to let you out. I won’t say who I am, just a police officer,’ he answered to my request to tell me who let me out. He didn’t write anything in the protocol. And then I went, recorded the beatings. noted at the police station.”

Escape from Daugavpils

The third article, in accordance with which they plan to accuse him, was declared to Aleksandr Tsvetkov on June 21, when he came to celebrate.

“We will accuse you of spying for Russia. But we’ll see, they said, how we will turn around. Allegedly, I may be a staff member of the FSB of Russia, the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. And the most interesting thing is a staff member of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation. I asked a question: If I were a staff member of the FSB, and also the Foreign Intelligence Service, which flatters me very much, would I show myself, would I write complaints to the Latvian authorities about all these anti-people laws that are being adopted, or would I sit below the grass? But, of course, I did not receive an answer,” says Aleksandr.

Initially, the activist did not think about running away from Latvia, and how can one run away if one is under house arrest and has to report to the police twice a week. I thought that everything would work out, but the further the investigation went, the more obvious it was that they would put me in jail. But Aleksandr did not want to sit in jail for anything. Even to pay a fine or get forced labour.

“Everything turned out very strange. On June 21, I asked the investigator if I could go to Belarus to refuel, buy cheap food. And mentally relax – I’m not made of iron after all. And suddenly I got permission. The Security Police investigator said that it would only be necessary to name the day and time when I would go through the Silene checkpoint. And he will call the border and give prior notice,” the interlocutor still cannot believe what happened.

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However, a few days later the same investigator said that the situation had changed a little and that it would be necessary to write a statement, to which he would send a response letter with permission. But it still didn’t seem true.

However, when on July 6, Aleksandr Tsvetkov, having put his things in the trunk of the car, went to the Silene checkpoint, there the paper from the State Security Service, in which it was written that Aleksandr’s request to cross the border was granted, worked. He was allowed into Belarus.

“I don’t know what they had in mind. Maybe they wanted to get rid of me? But as soon as I was in Belarus, I went to the border with Russia and at the checkpoint I wrote a statement to the migration department with a request to grant me political asylum or a residence permit in Russia. And I began to wait for an answer. And at the same time it turned out that in Latvia they completely forgot about me. Only 10 days later, my father received a letter from the police, in which they demand that I immediately come to them,” Aleksandr laughs.

The first pancake turned out to be lumpy. On July 15, the activist again went to the same Belarusian-Russian checkpoint for a decision, but received an answer that he was denied refugee status. But in his statement, he did not ask for such a status.

Now Aleksandr Tsvetkov is preparing a new statement and will seek legal return to his homeland, to Russia. Because the country in which he was born and lived, did military service in the ranks of the Latvian army, considered him a stranger for 30 years, and in the end decided to get rid of him. Only it is not clear, through a criminal process or the creation of all conditions for a forced flight.

Aleksey Stefanov

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