Sunday, May 30, 2010

Latvian state language agency head denounces academic to Security Police

Based on media published excerpts of an interview by Sergejs Kruks, an academic researcher,  the head of the Latvian State Language Agency (Valsts valoda aģentūra/VVA)  Jānis Valdmanis, denounced the researcher to the Latvian Security Police, who summoned Kruks for questioning last week.
Kruks told the Latvian news agency BNS that his research indicated Latvians had to change or abandon some of their traditional values and give up the idea of preserving the country " as an open-air museum" where poets and artists can make a living and where national costumes, the language and traditions are preserved."
Valdmanis apparently interpreted this as a violation of laws against inciting ethnic hatred and asked the Security Police to investigate.
Kruks, an associate professor at the Riga Stradiņa university, is the second academic in recent years to be investigated by the Security Police for statements made to journalists and published in the media. Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a lecturer in economics at a college in Ventspils was arrested, taken to Security Police headquarters in Riga and held for two days after suggesting that people should not trust Latvian banks and the Latvian lat at a round-table discussion published in a local newspaper.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Latvian Supreme Court clears neo-Nazi of race hate speech charges

The so-called "Senate" or highest appeal level of the Latvian Supreme Court (Augstākā tiesa) has let stand a lower appeals court decision clearing Latvian neo-Nazi Andris Jordāns of charges of inciting race hatred. Jordāns was originally sentenced to an 18 month jail term for statements he made at a meeting of the Latvian Anti-Fascist Committee denouncing Jews and Roma (gypsies) as "not being human".  There were a number of Latvian Jews in the audience during Jordan's remarks, which, as some video records show, were delivered in a normal, non-threatening tone of voice.
From news reports, it appears that the lower appeals court decision was based on a failure of prosecutors to prove that Jordāns' speech was an incitement to racial hatred. It did not touch the issue of whether there should be hate speech laws (probably more of a question for Latvia's Constitutional Court), simply that the prosecution failed to make its case.
Jordāns is precisely the kind of hard case (a racist, anti-semitic loony-tune) where it is necessary to separate principle from personality and stand by the broadest interpretation of free speech. Free expression applies to all speech and expression, regardless of its content and with some very, very narrow exceptions (had Jordān's statement immediately been followed by an attack on Jews in the audience, there might be a case, similarly, there could be a case for diminished responsibility based on provocation if a Jewish person from the audience had taken a punch at Jordāns).
We can all imagine supporting the free speech rights of a kind little old lady who is arrested for verbally protesting the closing of a shelter for stray cats. But the real test case is for people who we really, really don't like and whose politics, if implemented, are dangerous and totalitarian. That means people like Jordāns or some raving Muslim jihadist preacher.  Freedom for the thought we hate, as Anthony Lewis more or less formulated it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Neo released under restrictions, Latvians protest arrest

Ilmārs Poikāns, the Latvian artificial intelligence researcher who reportedly admitted being the cyberactivist Neo, responsible for exposing government duplicity on salaries and spending, has been released after two days in jail.
Latvian police didn't ask that Poikān's pre-trial detention be extended and agreed to his release upon condition that he not leave the country and remain at one place of residence. It is not clear if Poikāns admission that he is Neo can be interpreted as an admission of guilt.
Neo disclosed, over several weeks, the month-by-month salary payments of a range of ministries, state agencies and state-owned companies. Many, but not all, had not followed government austerity guidelines and continued paying high salaries and bonuses to high-level managers while reducing salaries of ordinary employees.
Meanwhile several hundred Latvians demonstrated against Poikāns' arrest and the search and seizure of Latvian television journalist Ilze Nagla's home. Her laptop computer, containing working materials for her investigative weekly program DeFacto was seized along with an external hard disk and other media.
Two different protests, organized by communicating on the social media tool Twitter were held at the main Government House (the Cabinet of Ministers) and the Prosecutor's Office, both in downtown Riga, Protestors used chalk to write protest slogans on the broad sidewalk in front of the Cabinet of Ministers. These included demands to free Neo and for the protection of the freedom of the press in Latvia. Nagla appeared among the protestors and was given flowers by an admirer. She was interviewed by Swedish radio and local media. As in earlier interviews, she called the raid on her home late at night by plainclothes police an attack on the right of journalists to protect their sources and a frightening experience.
Nagla returned home alone around 10 pm and was confronted by a man in her stairwell who put his foot in her door before producing a search warrant requested by the police and authorized by a prosecutor (and approved the following day by a court). The search took around two hours. Police officials claimed the extraordinary search was necessary for operational purposes, a procedure the normally would be used to search the home of a person suspected of harboring a dangerous fugitive or preparing a terrorist attack.
A police spokesman also said that the search "was not aimed at Nagla's professional activities" although it resulted in most, if not all of her work-related electronic files being seized.
Aleksejs Loskutovs, a lawyer  and the former head of the Bureau to Prevent and Combat Corruption (Latvian abbreviation KNAB) has offered to be Poikān's defense attorney. While a popular and sometimes controversial figure with political ambitions, Loskutovs admits he has no experience in press freedom cases and in what will be a political trial if charges are brought against the IT expert.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

IT researcher arrested, Latvian TV investigative journalist's home raided by police

The Latvian police have detained Ilmārs Poikāns, a researcher in artificial intelligence at the University of Latvia's Computer Science department on suspicion that he is "Neo", the Robin Hood-like cyberactivist who leaked public sector salary statistics showing that many top officials didn't take government-mandated salary cuts and other austerity measures.
According to news reports, Poikāns, 31.  was arrested at his workplace late at night on Tuesday, May 12. The police also seized a private server hosted by the university Computer Science department.  He could face up to 10 years in prison for disclosing confidential information with resulting "serious consequences."
The Latvian police also simultaneously raided the home of Latvian television's investigative journalist Ilze Nagle, apparently in connection with the Poikāns, who is  suspected of obtaining government and public salary information through a leak in the State Revenue Service IT system.  Nagle, who is host of the weekly investigative Latvian TV program "De Facto" , was among the first to report on "Neo" and a cyberactivist group called the  4th Awakening People's Army. "Neo" later published links to compilations of public sector salaries on the social media application Twitter.
The police seized Nagle's computer and other data platforms (hard disks, flash drives).  Nagle  called the raid a violation of press freedom and laws allowing journalists to protect their sources.
Police spokesmen said that the raid on Nagle's home had nothing to do with " her professional work". Nagle, however, said the police action showed that the Latvian authorities could conduct searches and intimidation against any investigative journalist and seize all information regarding sources and professional contacts.