Monday, November 24, 2008

Index on Censorship blogs on the Smirnovs Case

Well, Index On Censorship at least blogged (in its Free Speech Blog) about the detention of the Latvian academic Dmitrijs Smirnovs:

Credit crunch censorship

Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne very nearly lost his job recently after he was accused of ‘talking down’‘ the pound. He’s managed to ride the storm, but it was a close-run thing. Osborne should of course be able to say what he likes, but it’s not exactly a free speech issue, is it?

In Latvia, however, things are a little different. Journalist Juris Kaza got in touch to tell us of the case of Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a lecturer in accounting and finance, who, in the same week as Osborne found himself in hot water, actually found himself in jail after making critical remarks about the Latvian banking system in a panel discussion organised by newspaper Ventas Balss.

Smirnovs said that excessive lending, largely by Swedish-owned banks, had put Latvia in a precarious position and it was his opinion that people shouldn’t keep their money in banks nor in Latvian lats. According to press reports, police are preparing criminal proceedings against him for spreading false information that could destabilise the Latvian financial system.

Smirnovs spent two days in custody after being arrested. He’s now out of prison, but forbidden from leaving the country.

Meanwhile the Mirror is reporting that Conservative leader David Cameron is ‘distancing himself’ from George Osborne.


Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Global Voices has a link under "Freedom of Speech" (right margin).

Anonymous said...

To people from other countries reading this blog:

Dmitry Smirnoff is arrested and possible criminal prosecution will be initiated according to Latvian Criminal law, clause 194., first addendum. It prohibits voluntary spreading of false rumors about finansial situation of country. He is not the only one interrogated about violating this law - there is a pop singer, few journalists, some people from web discussion forums. No one is actually punished. These measures are taken by Drošības Policija to stop rumors about devaluating local national currency. In previous years there have been few attempts to spread panic about this possibility; usually, currency exchange enterprises have got extra profit from this.

About freedom of speech in Latvia in overall. See There aren't registered cases of unlawful prosecution. Latvian law is recognized as compatible with that of EU.

In my opinion, it is nice that people are concerned about freedom of speech, but in case of this blog it looks more like getting fame as "freeedom-of-speech fighter" in a bad way - if we still look at statements like "fascist DP" seriously. I live here, web discussion forums and newspapers are full of critique against government; even in this particular case few bloggers have openly criticized government and DP without any repressions (with exception of warning to those who defamate DP). I, as citizen of Latvia, feel duty to inform readers about biased view of this blog. World needs truth in speech, not lies.

TRex said...

It's a slippery slope telling people what they can and cannot discuss. As for "lies" I think that's a bit over the top. Where is the lie, the Latvian governments misinformation about the banking crisis?

The law being used to harass the individals mentioned is aimed at a specific group positioned to profit by manipulation. Clearly that is not the case with the people mentioned so far.

Why do you post as Anonymous?

Anonymous said...

-> Anonymous #1

I also am citizen of Latvia and patriotic one at that. And I believe the Security Police has crossed the red line this time.

May be you will not regard 2 days in prison as anything special for opening your mouth to express your thoughts, especially if you are an expert and your thoughts are conclusions that come after analysis of facts, though there still is a chance that you may be wrong. After all, that is what science is about. And, as you say - the court still has to decide. But I do sincerely regard that as a kind of repression to keep people silent.

After all - if you are in power, you can make other people's lives a misery even without EVER bringing the case to the court.

And, yes, I believe there is a reason to talk about a "Fascist DP", because as Rome was not built in a day, so was not the Fascism. It comes in small steps and needs society to accept that, because, as you seem to believe, "that is done for common good".

So let us arrest some more university professors, singers, internet users, as well as people who "spread false rumors" talking to their guests in their kitchens during parties. Let as plant some mikes in hotels and restaurant tables (as they actually did in USSR), to effectively arrest those who "spread false rumors". Let us send to forced labor camps those who joke about the currency, Security Police or the government (as they, again, actually did in USSR). Hurray! That all will be done for common good! What a wonderful, bright future awaits us! Why worry?

P.S. Talking about "defamating DP" - A question: How you can call someone a complete overreacting idiot and potential Fascist without "defamating" him/her? Please advise!

I am not Leftist, far from it, so when I do say "Fascist" I actually do mean it.

Anonymous said...

...I will just add to my 11:27 PM comment:

We are talking here about a thing which is much more valuable than stability of the local currency. We are talking about free society here.

About people free in their thoughts and in their deeds, people without fear to express themselves.

I do not want to live in a police state with stable currency. I lived in USSR. That is more than enough for me.

Therefore I will not tolerate my country, Latvia, which was born free, to slip down to some kind of "benevolent" totalitarian dictatorship.

Anonymous said...

It's a slippery slope telling people what they can and cannot discuss. -- You forgot word "publicly" before "discuss"... Yes, there are things, which are prohibited (by different means) to be publicly discussed in any country. Should I provide examples?

As for "lies" I think that's a bit over the top. Where is the lie, the Latvian governments misinformation about the banking crisis? -- No, lies are words "Latvian economy will have the same fate as economy of Iceland", "Latvian currency wil surely be devaluated", "fascist DP", "DP leads us to totalitarian state", etc. It is true that there haven't been much information about financial plans of government, still secrecy here is understandable. Please, give examples of misinformation from the government, maybe I have missed something.

The law being used to harass the individals mentioned is aimed at a specific group positioned to profit by manipulation. Clearly that is not the case with the people mentioned so far. -- If we both are speaking about 194.1, then only 3rd part of it explicitly mentions profit as a motive. If you are convinced it is not the case, maybe you can give a link to comments of reputable jurist about this. If parts 1) and 2) of this clause are working "as they are written" then they looks pretty applicable to this case for me... still, this is a work for a court. If clause 194.1 violates freedom of speech, then Satversmes tiesa should be addressed.

Why do you post as Anonymous? -- I haven't an account in this system.

Anonymous said...

-> Anonymous #1, @12:00 AM

Heh. :)

Your fascination by the "letter of the Law" reminds me of the Nazi third Reich.

Remember - racial discrimination and mass killings were legal in German Reich, because they were strictly in line with the law.

And "whistleblowers" of the day might have received a similar answer to yours, that if they do not like anything about it, they may complain to the Constitutional Court.

Therefore I would suggest that you pull your head out of your ass and look not at how much what Security Police does is in line with the particular paragraph in the law, but look at the wide picture. Focus at the system as whole, not at the details, otherwise you will not see a forest behind the trees.

anonymous #1 said...

-> Anonymous #2

My opinion - there are only two essential questions here. 1) did DP acted according to law; 2) if yes, is this law conforming with Satversme - in this case, clause 100.

These are problems which should be solved in legal way, by suing country, if necessary, or addressing Satversmes tiesa. DP are operated by man, and man are prone to error - possibly, detention for 2 days was too harsh... still main questions remains unchanged.

Anything other seems to me emotional overstatements. Looks like we live in different countries. I really don't see any signs of totalitarian state incoming. There are multiple other problems, but not that.

anonymous #1 said...

-> anonymous November 25, 2008 12:32 AM

Should I respond to that?...

You can use any bad comparisons - that only proves you have no arguments left. "letter of Law", Nazi Reich, pulling head from ass... Try to get to the point. In any normal country police does its job according to law, not according to point of view of an exalted individual (that's you). You should be happy for that because there are more of such individuals out there... And yes, I believe in law. I believe it is the point we should start to implement an order in society. Law isn't guilty if Third Reich used it to kill people. They just didn't made it right, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

-> Anonymous #1

One thing is a law. And another thing is how it is interpreted and applied. How you classify things is important. The way you call and consider things.

Reminds me of the joke about a guy temporarily replacing judge who classified sleeping with other man's wife as "use of other man's property" and issued death sentence to a drunkard who had thrown over a rotten fence for "overthrow of the existing system" (par pastāvošās iekārtas gāšanu).

When expressing ones opinion is considered to be equal to intentionally spreading false rumors it is clear, that something is starting to go fundamentally wrong in this society.

I also feel like we are living in different countries. And talking to you helps me to better understand how totalitarian regimes come around. Like in the movie "True lies" - "Have you kill edanyone?" "Yes, but they were all bad".

In Stalin's USSR they also were killing people strictly in accordance to the law and just because "they were all bad".

And, if you remember, on paper USSR was the most democratic country in the world, like in fact it was more like a twin of the Nazi Reich. So your fascination with the papers might cost you dearly some day, because reality is something more than that.

As of "point of view of an exalted individual" - This country was built on "points of views of an exalted individuals". And it was built to be a free country for free people.

anonymous #1 said...

I guess, these bad compares is your habit. So I won't answer to you what is difference in detention according to law for 2 days and repressions in Soviet Russia. You just won't get the point. Or about totalitarian regimes... you maybe will be surprised, that they come around after exalted people "in the name of freedom" make a revolution, against existing order and law. Just history facts, nothing more. Even hard-edge bureucrats haven't created anything like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. Both were created by takeover of power following some great ideas. Or for looking on papers - have you noticed that different people have pretty different views of what is good and bad? Law put this all in such form that is maximally close to unite understanding. If you talk about applying laws, read my comments once more. You will notice I am talking about applying it in many places... But that's okay, some more comparisons will put all in the places, right? Just need to choose correct ones ;) - that's the tricky part.

One more note:
"When expressing ones opinion is considered to be equal to intentionally spreading false rumors it is clear, that something is starting to go fundamentally wrong in this society." -- That's where court is coming into play. Prosecution can try to prove that this "expression of ones opinion" is in reality "intentionally spreading false rumors". That's why they prosecute. You don't have to agree with them. You need to let process go its way. There is also defence in courts, too. That is how it should work, and we need to do our best efforts to make this system working.

Juris Kaža said...

Have you ever hear of the "chilling effect"? It means that if you risk being dragged into criminal proceedings for the way what you say is interpreted by the police, this is a reason to fear speaking freely. And the more you pass laws addressing, supposedly, what people may or may not say, the more you put power to control the social debate in the hands of the police and the more you freeze out democracy.
Here is the best statement of what freedom of speech means:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.. Where it is more complicated than that, it is a sign of a defective and inferior democracy. If that applies to Latvia, so be it.

Anonymous said...

-> Anonymous #1

I think it is hard to explain to a blind person what a rainbow is.

P.S. Seems you are not getting it that the fuss is not about a law, but about a strange application of it and the destructive effect of this on our society.

Of course, the court will decide, but seems you are overlooking what Mr. Kaza mentions as "chilling effect" - basically, you can create a totalitarian society while strictly remaining within the boundaries defined by law. Because laws are not perfect and can be bent and bent a lot, using them as a tool in a way they were not intended to be used.

Use of a threat of legal action (even if groundless) against an individual as a mean of terrorizing that person and making him obey to avoid trouble. Psychological terror. That's what it is.

It will be hard to find people willing to talk freely if they know that they will face arrests and interrogations, even if courts will let them go.

Your naive obsession with the law and legal system as panacea makes me think that you either have never lived in USSR (possibly being too young) or have not learned anything from it.

Please realize, that this is not a legal issue, this is a political issue.

P.P.S. Yes, both Nazi Reich and USSR were created by fanatics obsessed with an idea. But in both countries finally it was not fanatics, but it was bureaucrats who sent millions to their death.

anonymous #1 said...

Ok, here it is from you, mr. Kaža (
"Freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and by many state constitutions and state and federal laws. Criticism of the government and advocation of unpopular ideas that people may find distasteful or against public policy, such as racism, are generally (sic!) permitted . There are exceptions to the general protection of speech, however, including the Miller test for obscenity, child pornography laws, and regulation of commercial speech such as advertising. Other limitations on free speech often balance rights to free speech and other rights, such as property rights for authors and inventors (copyright), interests in "fair" political campaigns (Campaign finance laws), protection from imminent or potential violence against particular persons (restrictions on Hate speech or fighting words), or the use of untruths to harm others (slander). Distinctions are often made between speech and other acts which may have symbolic significance. Efforts have been made to ban flag desecration, for example, though currently that act remains protected speech." Even in USA there is situations, when freedom of speech is not prevalent. Please, answer to this, as I see this is the main point we cannot agree about factual reality. Where is your First Amendment here? Why I cannot talk "hate speech", or advertise something in inappropriate way? Or run into airport and shout "There is a bomb in the plane" - pretty good joke, much alike that one of our humorous pop singer. One more thing I would like you to comment is why Latvia is in EU, if our laws are so contradicting to Human Rights.

To anonymous #2: you are good example of people who sees what he wants to see. USRS is gone, combat fear within yourself. If you are talking about my naiveness - common, that's how democracy works. Power of law. Study some facts before childishly offend me.

Juris Kaža said...

Hmm, so who are you now, anonymous 3 :)
Anyway, if you look at the way the Supreme Court of the US has interpreted the First Amendment, it has, since the 1960s, generally expanded the rights of free speech and effectively overruled its earlier, more restrictive intepretations that were made just after World War I, during World War II and the early part of the Cold War.
I am very sure that the Supreme Court of the US would throw out the interpretation of Article 194 as overbroad and that it would enjoin (issue a court order) to the Security Police to cease and desist with most of what it is doing with regard to speech commenting on the economy and currency markets.
But Latvia is not the US, it is a far lesser democracy, it has a far more primitive view of free speech. Which is why some people are trying to change things and aspire to the best (though not perfect) practices of the US and Western European countries, not the worst practices of Belarus or Russia, which the Latvian government seems to want to imitate.

anonymous #1 said...

1) you are saying our level of free speech is not good enough comparing to USA an EU. Take look at this:

This is about freedom of press. We are at 31. place. Russia 165, Great Britain 32. How you comment this?

Democracy rating:

2) Fact, that USA is going in the way to make speech "more free", doesn't mean absolute freedom of speech is their target or that it could/should be gained in reality at all. Few restrictions are taken out - that's correct; still new ones are introduced when society faces new problems (terrorism, economical crisis). Do you really think they will put freedom of speech in higher priority comparing to security of the state?...

3) About that 194.1. Probably, they wouldn't needed such a clause, because of different situation. This clause was accepted by Saeima, so it is legitime here. Maybe we have different situation (our people are more susceptible to such rumors; we are not so large country, so each opinion has much larger weight, etc.). Maybe we in turn haven't some restrictions in speech in commercial sphere, as they do.

4) About misuse of law. I have heard that this is one of problems in Latvia - weak judiciary power (but good laws). What could be done to make it better? Independence of judges, professionality, capacity... That is worth a separate discussion. At least, looks like things are improving, slowly, but steady.

Juris Kaža said...

To whatever anonymous it may concern :):)

What the Security Police are doing is going to knock down Latvia's freedom of expression rating. And it will be deserved.

Good night (Latvian time)

Anonymous #2 said...


"common, that's how democracy works. Power of law" -

Reminds me of ancient philosopher's, Plato's, I guess, definition of what a human is: "A creature without feathers". Another fellow then took a rooster, took
all the feathers away and presented it to public saying: "This is a human in Plato's understanding". It is said that Plato then added to his definition: ".. and with flat fingernails".

If your understanding of democracy is explicitly limited to the rule of law, than I feel sorry for you and for your country. I already mentioned Nazi Nuremberg laws. There was a rule of law, but there was no democracy. So something should be wrong with this limited set of features.

Definitely, the rule of law is "a must", but there is more than that.

"USRS is gone, combat fear within yourself" -

Seems, that because of individuals like you there is saying, that history repeats itself in cycles.

So many Anonymouses here, because it is not immediately obvious that it is possible to post under a name without registered identity.

anonymous #1 said...

-> anonymous #2

Please, show where I am saying that "democracy is explicitly limited to the rule of law". These are your words. Law is mechanics which enables democracy. Without law democracy is anarchy.

One should be aware of his fear to be able to think rationally.

It is easy to play with words, still this don't lead to the truth. One must be careful when using "fascism, totalitarism, repressions", etc. They are hard words with emotional content. When looking at Latvia and context of events, are you sure you want to use them?

I got your position after your first post: you don't like actions of DP. I tried to show you they are acting according to normal (!) laws, and similar things could happen in any democratic country. Isn't in France a person being tried for defamation of their president? Should Latvia be a kind of "superdemocracy" or experimental field for that? I don't think so, sorry. Besides, it is discutable, who is leading society to totalitarism more - one, who tries to balance interests of individual and state, or one who denies interests of state, only to approve unevitable hard dictature after (see history).

Anonymous #2 said...

-> Anonymous #1

Sounds like if we would be from different planets. Allright then.

Unfortunately we have drifted away from the focal point, which would be if it is OK that a powerful Government organization freely interprets law to its liking to incarcerate academics for expression of their expert points of view and interrogates people for innocent jokes.

I might disagree to the idea that the nail that sticks out should be hammered down for common good to "balance interests of state and individual".

And, yes, I would want to use word "Fascist" when talking about it, because things like this fit the Fascist mindset and modus operandi perfectly.

No, I do not mean that Latvia is Fascist or even that the Security Police is. Not at all. But these signs are too alarming and barbaric to be tolerated in modern society that considers itself civilized.

I hope DP will be sued and will apologize and pay compensations.

Let us just wait and see how this develops further.

anonymous #1 said...

"Unfortunately we have drifted away from the focal point, which would be if it is OK that a powerful Government organization freely interprets law to its liking to incarcerate academics for expression of their expert points of view and interrogates people for innocent jokes." -- Again, how about plane bombing joke in USA? Are you sure you won't be interrogated? That guy mentioned 2 particular banks in his joke. And about Smirnoff - we don't even know if he isn't getting profit from that. It IS the fact that after his speech unusually large amount of euros were sold.

I also hope that this case really will go to the court and state of Latvia will prove it is right. This is the only way to protect my country from campaign of loud words and lies.

Anonymous said...

To all anonymouses (anonymi?),

Just add your name, or pseudonym if you prefer, at the end of your posts.

(signed) Pierre

BTW, interesting discussion.