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Latvia: Freedom of Speech Controversy

Prominent Latvians are outraged over the detention of a university lecturer at a seaside town of Ventspils by the security police. The economic crisis, a bank bailout, and the launched talks with the International Monetary Fund served as a backdrop for the arrest of Dmitrijs Smirnovs. During a discussion at a provincial newspaper Ventas Balss, Smirnovs said:

The only thing that I can recommend is: first of all, do not save money in banks; second of all, do not save money in lats because right now it is very dangerous.

Historian Gustavs Strenga writes (LV):

In the end, because of this thoughtless act of the security police (SP), Latvian state and society suffered. The society can no longer feel safe about the freedom of speech, but the state's loss is its degraded image. You just have to read the foreign press. Austrian Der Standart writes (DE) about the arrest of D. Smirnovs, so does Tageszeitung (DE). Both newspapers don't hide their surprise about SP's action to send the expert into jail. Smirnovs’ arrest made it clear for the international community – first of all – and our largest partners in the European Union that they are still dealing with a post-communist country where repressive organizations are still ready to act against their own citizens. That is a very dangerous signal. Latvian officials ought to understand it and at least attempt cosmetic changes inside the SP, at least to fire the head of the SP Janis Reiniks to show that SP won't continue to act this way against its own citizens.

Latvian journalists wrote an open letter (LV) to authorities, voicing their concern for the freedom of speech:

We ask the Latvian government to announce clearly that it supports guarantees of the freedom of speech that are included in the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia and international agreements on human rights.

We turn to the European Union institutions on human rights and democratic governments in Europe and elsewhere in the world as well as non-governmental organizations that protect freedom of speech so that they would strongly remind the Latvian government that it is its duty to respect the freedom of speech.

Following an account in the Wall Street Journal about Latvia's Unpalatable Choice, the head of the Latvian Central Bank Ilmars Rimsevics came out against the action of the security police for the first time only on December 3.

Free Speech Emergency in Latvia, a blog set up by Latvian journalist Juris Kaža, cites the bank chief:

Logically, the detention of these two people in connection with spreading rumors is, unfortunately, laughable and pathetic, for they were not the true rumor-mongers. The real rumor-mongers are watching this and laughing. The rumor-mongers work with SMS messages, naming specific dates when decisions will be made, even saying what the new lats rate will be. No such person has been detained. I truly feel uncomfortable, seeing how singers and lecturers are detained.

The blogger also adds:

But Rimšēvics also told the media in an earlier statement (that seemed to refer to the Security Police actions) that in other countries, rumor-mongers would be arrested within 15 minutes of expressing their views about the finance system or currency. One can only guess which authoritarian regimes and dictatorships would act this way.

3 comments

  • anglocalabro

    Just about 3 years ago, during my stay in Riga, I remember meeting with a kind gentleman in a bar. Following a pleasant conversation, we exchanged few opinions about the economic and financial situation in Latvia. I remember myself formulating some very critical opinions about economic and likely financial turmoils in Latvia that could end in the devaluation of the Lat. I learnt these days that i committed a crime and I find very hard to live with the gravity of this horrible act of social deviance. I would greatly appreciate to know whether I have to report to the judiciary or to the police to deal with the legal consequences of my crime.

    yours faithfully,

    anglocalabro

  • […] this month, Aleks Tapinsh of All About Latvia wrote on GV about Dmitrijs Smirnovs' case and the economic crisis dimension of the freedom of speech […]

  • […] fiandohan'ity volana ity, Aleks Tapinsh ao amin'ny All About Latvia no nanoratra teto amin'ny GV ny momba an'i Dmitrijs Smirnovs sy ny zoron'ny krizy ara-toe-karena eo amin'ny […]

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