Alleged Ukraine fighter acquitted in Latvian court

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The Riga City Vidzeme District Court on August 4 acquitted Artjoms Skripniks, a man from the south-eastern Latvian city of Daugavpils, who was charged with illegal participation in the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

It is the first criminal case in Latvia about illegal participation in the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine and has ended with the court of first instance acquitting the defendant.

Skripniks, a 'non-citizen' of Latvia, had been taken into custody but was released after acquittal. The court proceedings were organized as a video conference because of Skripniks' health problems. The man has hemiparesis, or weakness of one entire side of the body, therefore he was not transported to the court and was watching the proceedings from the jail.

Now the court will wait for ten days to see whether any of the parties to the proceedings will request release of the reasoned decision. Should the prosecutor's office choose to file an appellate claim, it will be heard by the Riga Regional Court.

As reported, Skripniks had confessed to criminal activities in Eastern Ukraine, including killing of people, when questioned by the Security Police previously. But during the trial he entered a not-guilty plea, claiming that he was in Eastern Ukraine on a humanitarian mission and had made the confession under psychological pressure.

At the beginning of 2016 the Latvian Security Police announced it had opened a criminal case against a resident of Latvia over his possible illegal participation in the armed conflict in Ukraine. The person was detained upon returning to Latvia. It was the first time a resident of Latvia had been detained on suspicion of illegal participation in an armed conflict abroad.

The Security Police said the man had been participating in the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine since mid-2014.

Skripniks' lawyer, Imma Jansone, said earlier that in 2014 her client had went to the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic in Eastern Ukraine to distribute to the local population humanitarian aid collected in Moscow. While in Ukraine, he sustained a head wound but had not participated in the hostilities, it was maintained. Moreover, Skripniks does not have military experience because, as a non-citizen of Latvia, he could not serve in the Latvian army which accepts only Latvian citizens, his lawyer argued.

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