Two candidates in the upcoming Latvian parliamentary elections were prevented from campaigning in two public places -- the square by Riga's Central Station and the Central Market.
Rasma Kārkliņa, a candidate for the "Vienotiba" (Unity) alliance was told by Origo shopping center security guards to stop speaking to passers-by in front of the Central Railway Station, a place where campaigning has been conducted previously, where concerts and public gatherings have been held and where young people gather, loiter, talk and sometimes skateboard.
Kārkliņa, a political scientist who moved to Latvia from the US, was eventually taken to a police station to give an account of what happened. She says she was simply talking to bypassers, urging them to vote for Vienotības. She did not set up a table, stand, tent or other object that might have required permission from Norwegian-owned Linstow, the property management company that runs the Origo shopping center inside the Central Station and charged with maintenance and care of the public area near the station.
A spokesperson for Linstow in Latvia, responding to a discussion on Twitter, said that Karkliņa had been asked to officially coordinate her campaigning with Linstow, but had not done so. She said political parties who got approval could conduct campaign activities.
In a press release, Kārkliņa said she believed her expulsion from the Central Station Square had to do with political opponent Ainārs Šlesers former business ties to Linstow and other Norwegian business interests. Before going into politics, Šlesers played a key role in bringing the then Norwegian Rimi supermarkets, the Dressman and BikBok clothing stores and other Norwegian retailers and real estate managers into Latvia in the late 1990s. Šlesers spokespeople have denied these accusations.
Also challenged by private security guards at the Riga Central Market was Vienotiba candidate Lolita Čigāne, who was campaigning with two assistants. According to some reports, she aggressively verbally challenged those asking her to leave, citing her right as a citizen to free speech The Central Market management said they had a right to restrict Čigānes activities under a law forbidding election campaigning on property that is more than 50 % owned by a municipality. The Central Market is owned by the City of Riga, as is the Central Station.
The Central Station area and the Central Market are two areas of downtown Riga with very high pedestrian traffic with commuters going to trains or shoppers at Origo and the Central Market. They are natural areas for meeting large numbers of "ordinary" citizens.
There has been some discussion on Twitter (in Latvian) of holding a protest "Tweetmob" in the Central Station Square in the next few days to peacefully protest the violation of freedom of speech and assembly.