Sunday, February 26, 2012

Latvian security police end investigation of incitement to desecrate the flag

The Latvian Security Police (Drošības policija) have ended an investigation surrounding calls on the internet for persons to desecrate the Latvian flag. The case has been ended because no "victim" of any crime was found (surprise, surprise!). Had anyone been found guilty of the actual crime of flag desecration, the perpetrator could face a stiff fine and up to three years imprisonment.
The call to desecrate the flag was published on the internet last year and contained a statement that any any "radical" advocate of free expression (say, like the US First Amendment) can only agree with:

In our view, any person, citizen or non-citizen, has the absolute right to do with the flag as he or she pleases. At the same time, the state has no right to punish a person for defacing, burning, tearing, or tramping the flag, The state must guarantee the right of persons to freely express their views. If a person has reason to take such actions with the flag, then he shall not even be deterred from such an action, nver mind punished.

For my Latvian readers:

"Mūsu skatījumā, jebkuram cilvēkam - pilsonim vai nepilsonim - ir absolūtas tiesības rīkoties ar karogu pēc saviem ieskatiem. Savukārt valstij nav absolūti nekādu tiesību cilvēku sodīt par to, ka viņš karogu izķēmo, dedzina, plēš, mīda kājām. Valstij ir jāgarantē cilvēka tiesības brīvi paust savus uzskatus. Ja kāds cilvēks uzskata, ka viņam ir pamats tā rīkoties ar karogu, tad viņu nedrīkst pat atturēt no šādas rīcības, kur nu vēl sodīt.

I fully agree with this statement, although I would never burn a Latvian flag. To me it represents, or should represent, the freedom that allows anyone else to do just that (the same goes for the US flag).
I would qualify the right to burn or desecrate a flag by saying -- desecrate a flag that is your property and don't create a significant public nuisance (setting something other than the flag on fire). Ripping down flags or national symbols that belong to public authorities or private persons is vandalism and should be punished with no greater severity than the damaging or destruction of any other, non-symbolic public property, such as a no-parking sign.
As for the Security Police, maybe they should avoid the chilling effect of investigations of this kind. As for the Saeima, it should repeal the laws that forbid flag desecration or give it any special status above and beyond the laws applicable to vandalism and destruction of public property.