The First Time a Person Is Being Judged in Latvia for Cooperation with Russia: About the Trial of Gaponenko

In the case of Aleksandr Gaponenko there are dozens of episodes, but in none of the publications or meetings were signs of crime found. There is a desire to present his activities want as anti-state on aggregate.

The case of Aleksandr Gaponenko continues to be heard in the Court of the Vidzeme District of Riga. A regular hearing was held this week and defence witnesses were questioned. Among them are well-known journalists and human rights defenders in Latvia: Yury Alekseyev, Vladimir Bouzayev, Einārs Graudiņš.

Gaponenko is the subject of two criminal (and in fact – political) trials. It is now a “second” case in which he has been arrested and spent several months in Riga Central Prison.

Aleksandr Gaponenko is accused under three articles of the Criminal Law. Two of them are standard ones, so to speak, included in the usual collection: “Incitement of national, ethnic, and racial hatred” and “Activities directed against the Republic of Latvia”. These charges have been brought more than once against activists of the Russian movement. But there’s something new.

Espionage lite

The case is notable for the fact that for the first time in Latvian judicial practice there is a person in the dock who is accused of “helping a foreign state in its activities directed against the Republic of Latvia”. Article 81 of the Criminal Law of Latvia. Or, as I call it, espionage lite. The maximum penalty is 5 years of imprisonment.

The article was adopted by the Seimas and entered into force in spring 2016. Its purpose is obvious: to stop political, humanitarian, and commercial contact between Latvian residents and Russia. Of course, it is formally only this contact that threaten Latvia’s sovereignty, territorial unity, state structure, and state security. But in reality, any resident of Latvia who cooperates with a Russian organisation can be brought under the article.

Okay, “sovereignty” and “territorial unity” are more or less specific concepts, we all understand them roughly equally. But what here is “state security”? For example, new terms such as “energy security” and “information security” have emerged. No lawyer will talk about what they mean from a legal point of view. There is no conventional understanding. It turns out that state security is what the State Security Service considers to be state security (forgive me for the heavy pun).

Gaponenko is blamed for his scientific and social-political contacts in Russia. And what, is this forbidden? Is there any blacklist of Russian organisations and companies in Latvia that you cannot cooperate with? So publish it! Maybe Gazprom, which sponsors the hockey players of Dinamo Riga, will be on this list, for example?

If Aleksandr Gaponenko is convicted under this article, such processes will fall like from the horn of abundance. The State Security Service, inspired by success, will build dozens and hundreds of similar cases.

In general and in particular

About the other two charges. All witnesses questioned by the court gave a testimony in favour of Gaponenko. If we ignore the details, the general conclusion from the testimony is that the journalistic, literary, scientific, social, and political activities of Aleksandr Gaponenko do not go beyond those allowed in a democratic society. His remarks at times annoy some group of people, but it’s not a crime.

Moderator of IMHO Club Yury Alekseyev, answering the question of the prosecutor, said that none of Gaponenko’s publications on his website caused complaints from the special services. Meanwhile, Gaponenko’s cooperation with the IMHO Club appears in the case file as evidence of his anti-state activities.

I’ve known about this trick for a long time. Sometime in the early 2000s, the Bureau for the Protection of the Constitution opened a criminal case against me for inciting ethnic strife. Back then I published the newspaper “Tribunal”, in which I allegedly engaged in “incitement”. But in no specific publication could investigators and experts find signs of crime. They told me themselves, “but on the whole, Mr. Linderman, on the whole, the paper certainly incites hatred…”

At that time there was no hybrid war, the prosecutor’s office sometimes showed common sense and closed cases fabricated by special services, which happened in my case.

In the case of Gaponenko, I think they want to do something similar. In the case file, according to the accused himself, there are several dozen episodes: statements, publications, meetings, and events. And they want to present all this as anti-state activity and the incitement of hatred – so to speak, on aggregate. I.e., no specific crime has been committed by a person, but in general his activities are criminal.

But in the rule of law this is not done: guilt for each episode must be proved separately.

My Constitution will protect me

Along with bad laws, the Seimas sometimes adopts good ones. In the same 2016, an amendment to the article punishing anti-state activities was adopted. According to the new version, it is possible to punish activities against state independence, territorial integrity, and other “sacred cows” only if such activities are carried out in ways not stipulated by the Constitution.

Gaponenko headed an underground combat organisation, published an illegal newspaper, or called for an assault on the Seimas or for the introduction of Russian tanks into Latvia? No. He wrote, spoke, and participated in legally permitted events. In other words, he realised his constitutional rights.

If he had been tried five or six years ago, I would have predicted Gaponenko’s full acquittal with a 99% probability. But times are changing, the legal system is collapsing under the pressure of “political necessity”. Nevertheless, the charges against Gaponenko so grossly expose the purely political background of the case that there is hope for a favourable sentence.

Vladimir Linderman

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