The Latvian prosecutor’s office has filed criminal charges against the Latvian journalist Leonīds Jākobsons, who edits a website in Russian, www.kompromat.lv, fr allegedly stealing and publishing some e-mail correspondence by Riga’s mayor Nils Ušakovs, a member of the Harmony Center party.
The correspondence seemed to suggest that Ušakovs was in touch with some shady characters in Russia, as well as with a local Russian diplomat later labeled a spy.
So far, there is no evidence that Jākobsons himself cracked Ušakovs gmail account, rather, that someone provided him with the already “stolen” emails, so it is difficult to understand how the journalist can be brought up on these charges. When the Latvian television journalist Ilze Jaunalksne’s phone conversations, recorded by the State Revenue Service, were leaked, it was the Revenue Service employees who were guilt of illegal wiretapping, not the media that published the transcripts.
At the same time the investigative television news program Nekā personīga (Nothing Personal) revealed that Jākobsons had been committed to a mental hospital for 30 days for observation in connection with the criminal investigation. This kind of abuse of journalists has not been seen since the Soviet era under the KGB secret police. Then, most journalists were obedient to the Communist regime, and only people
The alleged incident took place in November 2011, so that the filing of charges occurred with remarkable speed for Latvia. It took twice as long to file charges against persons suspected of taking bribes from the German automaker Daimler, and when personal, partly nude private photos of a public figure and advisor to the Latvian president were circulated on the internet, the perpetrators were never found.
In any case, the incident is similar to Wikileaks or event the Pentagon Papers, because it concerned the Riga mayor’s correspondence in an official capacity, suggesting ties (possibly, if not probably inadvertent) with Russian intelligence, as well as attempts to influence the content of some Russian-language media. The news value of the information provided could be considered as overriding any privacy issues. It would be another story if the mails were purely personal – to the mayor’s wife or family friends. But even some personal correspondence of a public figure, such as an official having an extramarital affair in a context where this would be politically damaging or signal dangerous risk-taking, could be news that overrides privacy considerations.
The Jākobsons case, especially the part about confinement to a mental hospital when a brief interview with a psychiatrist would have sufficed to determine that he wasn’t a raving loon, is very disturbing, though I am unaware (nor has anyone fully reported) the exact details. Once can suppose that it happened shortly after the journalist had his website servers seized.
A few months later, Jākobsons, while coming home with his young son, was attacked and had his face slashed by unknown goons. The police investigation of that case, which left the journalist in the hospital healing a slashed cheek similar to the wound inflicted on Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie Chinatown, has failed to find the persons responsible. Local reporters, who rushed to the site of the slashing, found a disorderly crime scene in the apartment building staircase, with both media people (photographers, cameramen, journalists) and nonchalant uniformed police trampling possible evidence.
As a sidelight, the independent Latvian weekly magazine Ir has been sued by four different allegedly “aggrieved” parties whose honor and reputation (or in one case, “traditional values”) have been injured by stories in the print and online publication. They must be doing something right.