Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ
5th March, 2016
On March 3rd, the Latvian Parliament approved, at the first reading, amendments to the criminal law, which, quoting the press service of the Seimas, “criminalizes anti-government actions in the format of hybrid and information warfare”. Put simply — destroy the opposition for any legal activity, both public and political, if it relates to the protection of the rights and interests of Russian citizens.
Article 80 was still quite responsible, it gave punishment only for the activities aimed at the violent overthrow of the government. But its recent edition: “Activities aimed against the state independence of the Republic of Latvia or its sovereignty, or activity aimed at the destruction of its territorial unity, the overthrowal of state power or changing the state system, shall be punishable by deprivation of liberty for up to eight years”. It was clear to everyone that we are talking about non-violent methods, the second part of the article particularly emphasizes: “The same activity, if it is committed using violence, is punishable by deprivation of liberty from five to fifteen years”.
The article is just inclusive. It includes even an ordinary rally demanding the resignation of the government, and even a publication in the media, questioning, for example, the value and inviolability of Latvian sovereignty. In fact, it is a break with basic European principles, which allow free discussion on any topics, if it is within the framework of democratic procedures, and without the use of violence.
No less miraculous transformations happened with the 81st article. The law is supplemented by article 81.1: “Assistance to a foreign state or foreign organization in its subversive activities against the security interests of the Republic of Latvia that is concluded directly or through the mediation of other persons, shall be punishable by deprivation of liberty for up to five years”.
Here the main target is obvious — the Russian authorities, foundations, media outlets, dedicated to helping Russians abroad. They are all by definition considered to be “harmful”, so that criminal cases against those inhabitants of Latvia who worked with them, you can stamp them on a conveyor. (Strictly speaking, my cooperation with REGNUM also falls under article 81.1). For a long time, fifteen years, the Latvian security services were moaning that they had no legal tools to stop the “Russian intervention”. Now they will have the tools.
For clarity, section 81.1 adds that it does not apply to cooperation with foreign intelligence services — there is the “Espionage” article for this. We are talking about “sabotage” in the humanitarian sphere.
And, by the way, the “Espionage” article was also slyly reworded. Earlier it discussed the transfer of information to foreign intelligence services, and in the new edition, along with special services, there is also unspecified “foreign organizations”. The probability of being accidentally considered as a spy increased. The authorities want to minimize any contact between inhabitants of Latvia and Russia.
There are tougher punishments for public calls against independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the state system. Previously the maximum sentence was three years imprisonment, but according to the new wording it is five years. Yet another highlight: the criminal prosecution falls not only on the calls, but also, and I quote: “The dissemination of materials containing such calls”, which did not previously exist. This is a warning shot to the side of the local media.
The amendments will undertake an accelerated procedure after two readings, the second reading is scheduled for April 7th. It is assumed that the final version will slightly aim the spotlight “under Europe”, but there will be no fundamental changes.
What hybrid warfare, and against who? The motherland… In the current aggravation of relations between Russia and the West, Latvian nationalists saw a great opportunity to put the squeeze on the Russian minority, to close all possibilities of legal protest. The second World war helped them to get rid of two other influential minorities — Germans and Jews, and in the current hybrid war, it is hoped it will help them to solve the “Russian problem”.
Is it possible to prevent the adoption of the amendments, appealing to the authorities of the European Union and Western public opinion? Of course, the amendments literally tear up the European template, with their obvious anti-democratic orientation. But today, everyone is ready to forgive the Baltic republics. After all, they are about to be attacked by the terrible Russia.