Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, the State Security Service (VDD) has launched 34 criminal proceedings in Latvia regarding hate speech and other activities in support of Russian aggression. Four other similar criminal proceedings have been taken by the Service from the police. In most of these cases, the infringement has been committed in an open and even demonstrative manner, but the court often allows these offenders to remain free by applying non-custodial means, including fines. The perpetrator acknowledges what they have done, claims to regret it and, in agreement with the prosecutor, goes through with a sentence.
At the beginning of this week, LSM reported on the VDD's detained pro-Kremlin blogger, Edgars Bleiders, who praised Russia and Belarus in his videos, cursed Latvia as a neo-Nazi country, and encouraged violence.
Despite the evidence gathered by investigators and a request to apply detention of a security measure to him, the court provided for the possibility of releasing that person against a symbolic EUR 3,500 bail. It was paid the following day, and Bleiders was out.
Similarly, other disinformants and justifiers for Russian aggression, such as Ruslans Pankratovs, Vladimirs Lindermans, and Aivis Vasiļevskis, have recently been released.
On the other hand, against Aleksandrs Dubjago, who waved the Russian flag at the Pārdaugava monument on May 10, criminal proceedings ended altogether because prosecutors did not see the elements of a crime.
A similar but slightly older case – the infamous Beness Aijo was tried in 2015 for calling for a violent overthrow. He was also granted a non-custodial security instrument during which he fled Latvia and has not been reachable to national security authorities since then.
A number of politicians surveyed by LTV abstained from commenting on these judgments, referring to the independence of the court, but former NBS Commander and former politician Juris Dalbiņš, who worked in defense and home affairs during the politician's career, said: such gentle treatment for these violators poses a series of risks.
First, by being free, these people can disrupt the investigation or avoid punishment, as Beness has. Secondly, they can continue their anti-governmental activities. And thirdly, it undermines confidence in state power and encourages other anti-governmental activists.
“The public sees that power is not really capable of ensuring the relevant stability among the various social and ethnic groups,” Dalbiņš said. “The people who are able to support the actions that are taking place in Ukraine, they only understand a strong power, the rule of law. We have to take this into account and take appropriate action.”
The head of the Saeima National Security Commission Jānis Dombrava (National Alliance) also sees similar risks. He said that the Saeima, as a legislator, should make amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law.
“There may be some individual cases where the bail would not be applicable as a security measure. It may be necessary to provide for totally other amounts, depending on the gravity of the offense. There is a difference in whether a person has to pay two thousand or two million as a bail,” Dombrava said.
The collection and analysis of the court case practice is carried out by the Supreme Court. A more ambitious analysis of hate speech and freedom of expression was carried out in 2018, but no such analysis has been carried out in the Supreme Court since the beginning of the war.