Latvia: Association condemns criminal proceedings against a journalist

by Ieva Andersone

On 15 November 2016, the Latvian Association of Journalists published an announcement condemning the recently concluded criminal proceedings against a journalist for her investigative journalism activities.

According to publicly available information, in September 2015, the State Police initiated criminal proceedings against a journalist from public broadcaster LTV. The journalist was working for an investigative journalism broadcast - "Aizliegtais paņēmiens", or "The Prohibited Manner".

In this broadcast, the journalists generally perform so-called journalistic experiments in order to discover illegal or faulty procedures within public institutions or private companies.

The circumstances

In the relevant case, the journalist performed an experiment in order to find out the principles on how the main public award of the Republic of Latvia, the "Triju zvaigžņu ordenis" ("Order of Three Stars"), is granted. The award is given by the Chapter of Orders, active under the chancery of the President of the Republic of Latvia.

Normally, the Chapter of Orders does not reveal why or following what principles the awards are granted. Within the experiment, the journalist had called various municipalities of Latvia, claiming that she represents the Chapter of Orders, and asking to suggest various candidates to present to the Chapter.

Consequently, the journalist had compiled a list of potential candidates, indicating their names and identity codes (as requested by the application procedure) and submitted them to the Chapter of Orders. The aim was to track the further progress of these applications and to see if any of the suggested candidates would receive the award, and if so, to understand why.

However, the Chapter of Orders soon found out about the activities of the journalist, and reported them to the police. The police initiated criminal proceedings against the journalist on the basis of Section 145 of the Latvian Criminal Law Code: illegal activities with the personal data of a natural person, if substantial harm is caused thereby.

Within the criminal procedure, the court permitted the police to track the telephone calls of the journalist, and permitted them to acquire her call log. In addition, the police interrogated the journalist as well as her colleagues.

As a result, in summer 2016, the criminal procedure was concluded without finding evidence that any crime had occurred.

The case

The LTV and the Latvian Association of Journalists believe that the actions of the police in the given case where excessive and demonstrate that Latvian judicial authorities lack a proper understanding of the role of a journalist in a democratic society. Although the proceedings were completed without any criminal accusations, the procedure as such interfered with the professional activity of the journalist, and violated the protection and confidentiality of sources (as the police interrogated also the persons to whom the journalist had spoken during the experiment).

The LTV and their lawyers indicate that the police could choose less interfering methods to find out whether there are grounds for the complaint against the journalist. For example, the Latvian Criminal Procedure Law provides for an official examination, within which the evidence may be searched, but without directing a criminal procedure against a specific person.

The police in their statement have explained that in this case they had grounds to initiate criminal proceedings, without providing further details of the reasoning.

The case is not fully concluded yet, as the Prosecutor General has ordered to re-examine the legality and grounds for the conclusion of the criminal proceedings.

Ieva Andersone, LL.M (Cantab.), SORAINEN, Latvia.

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –