Ministry's typo gives Latvian prisoner death penalty scare

The death penalty in Latvia was officially abolished in 2011, while the last death sentences for two murderers were carried out in 1996. Despite this, the 4. studija (Studio 4) broadcast of Latvian Television (LTV) received a letter from a person named Atis, who is serving his sentence in Rīga Central Prison, and due to a letter from the Ministry of Justice, he is convinced that he is the only person in Latvia who is currently awaiting a death sentence to be carried out.

The prisoner writes that his crime of intentionally causing grievous bodily harm was heard at Britain's Royal Lincoln Crown Court on October 4, 2019. In 2021, he was retried in Latvia and the verdict of the court was 10 years in prison. Then he realized that in England the prison might be more comfortable and he would serve less time in it than in his homeland, so he turned to the Ministry of Justice asking if he could be sent back. It replied, in turn:

"In your case, the Republic of Latvia has already begun to execute the sentence of deprivation of life imposed on you in Great Britain. Consequently, the proceedings with recognition and enforcement of a foreign judgment in the Republic of Latvia have ended."

The letter was signed by two officials – one who prepared the reply, and the other who signed under it. Atis had therefore begun to think he has been sentenced to death.

The Ministry of Justice's response to Atis was sent a year and a half ago. All this time he has been thinking about how this death sentence will be executed (if that's not an inappropriate word in the circumstances) and when it will actually happen.

4. studija wanted to meet with the prisoner himself, yet Atis refused.

The Ministry of Justice was also unwilling to comment on the situation in front of the camera. 4. studija received a response in an email:

“In a letter prepared by the Ministry of Justice on March 24, 2022, to the person in Central Prison, Atis V., a typing error has unfortunately occurred in one of the sentences. It should be noted that the prepared letter repeatedly mentions the term deprivation of liberty while one of the sentences spells out deprivation of life.” 

It should be noted that in Latvian the words liberty and life are somewhat similar in spelling – brīvība and dzīvība. 

Andris Grafs, Vice President and head of the Baltic Institute of Corporate Governance in Latvia, said: “If there has been such a mistake, then I think the right decision is to apologize and make this situation right. The other is to see who hadn't performed high-quality work when everyone has put their signature on the letter in question and agreed, and it has left the institution. Someone has failed to pay attention to whether they have performed their tasks, which has led to certain consequences. ”

The Ministry of Justice only clarified its response to Atis when he turned to 4. studija. Until now, the mistake had not drawn anyone's attention.

The Ministry of Justice's response to 4. studija said the Ministry apologized for the error that arose and said that

“An updated letter was sent to Atis V. explaining that a typing error occurred in the letter of March 24,2022; the explanation also indicates that the most severe punishment in the Criminal Law for committing a criminal offense is a custodial sentence and the laws and regulations of the Republic of Latvia do not provide for such types of punishment as, for example, a sentence of 'deprivation of life' or a death penalty.”

Andris Grafs stated that if “human errors” occur in exceptional cases, then the head of the institution has the opportunity to prosecute or impose disciplinary sanctions, but if errors occur frequently, “there is a question of competence for specific officials preparing these materials.”


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