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24.02.2019   EU Parliament Members Worried Over Rights Situation In Baltic States

Several European Parliament members from Latvia and Estonia on Wednesday discussed the worrying democracy and human rights situation in the three Baltic countries

BRUSSELS (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 21st February, 2019)

Several European Parliament members from Latvia and Estonia on Wednesday discussed the worrying democracy and human rights situation in the three Baltic countries.

The meeting, which featured testimonies from journalists, university professors and human rights activists, was hosted by European Parliament member from Latvia Miroslavs Mitrofanovs at one of the parliament buildings in Brussels. The discussion was also attended by EU parliament member from Estonia Yana Toom and parliament member from Latvia Andrejs Mamikins.

Speakers from EstoniaLatvia and Lithuania shared their experience to bring attention to baseless accusations of espionage and of organizing civil unrest, house arrests and difficulties experienced by Russian-speakers in these countries.

LATVIA'S SCHOOL LANGUAGE REFORM

Last year, the Latvian cabinet adopted amendments to the law on education to start the transition into teaching mostly in Latvian at the Baltic country's minority schools. The move was denounced as "discriminatory" by some of Latvia's ethnic Russian minority.

In Latvia, around a quarter of the population are ethnic Russians.

A parents' meeting in a hall, aimed at exchanging views on the school language reform, was held in the Latvian capital Riga on March 31, 2018. It was attended by some 900 people. Several weeks after the conference, a number of participants of the meeting were persecuted by Latvian security police.

"My children live in England and France, but I cannot go to see them. I cannot speak to my friends, I am under house arrest from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and must be at home during the night. I am accused of intentionally creating hatred, of crimes against the state and - quite an exotic accusation - of preparing "civil unrest" in Latvia! Ridiculous. All this is based on my presentation at the parents' meeting in Riga," Vladimirs Lindermans, a Latvian publicist and human rights activist, said in a Skype call.

'TREASON' ACCUSATIONS AGAINST DISSENTING VOICES

Aleksandrs Gaponenko, a university researcher from Latvia, was imprisoned for four months and placed under house arrest August 23, 2018.

"I was incriminated for crime against the state. The Latvian criminal code was suspiciously complemented with new articles 2 years ago in article 81, chapter 10, indicating assistance in actions directed against the state and assisting foreign states or organizations against the state integrity. So it is evident that if you voice your concerns about corruption of bad government, this can be kept against you for accusations of espionage on behalf of a foreign state. They mean, of course, the Russian Federation, since I am a Russian speaker," Gaponenko said in a Skype call.

The same accusations were brought against Jurijs Aleksejevs, the editor of the internet portal IMHOClub.

He was detained in November 2018 for 48 hours.

"Unfortunately, it seems that the European Union lacks any strength on these issues of democracy within the [European] Union. They don't want to interfere in national affairs ... Two years ago, the situation abruptly worsened in Latvia. Basic political rights and freedom of speech were limited ... The acts of the state [are similar] to torture, with the ransacking of homes and apartments, the confiscation of IT means and archives, the restriction of activities, arrests," Miroslavs Mitrofanovs stressed.

According to the lawmaker, in Lithuania, too, "the persecution of dissenting voices is commonplace," although it is "more ideological" than in Latvia.

RIGHTS SITUATION IN LITHUANIA AND ESTONIA

In Lithuania, attempts to speak about the possible role played by some of the Baltic country's national heroes in the Holocaust are usually met with accusations of rewriting patriotic history. In 2017, one of Lithuania's biggest publishing houses recalled books by author Ruta Vanagaite fromstores after the publication in 2016 of her book "Our People," which looked at the persecution of Jewish Lithuanians and the Holocaust during World War II.

Viaceslav Titov, an ex-member of the city council in KlaipedaLithuania, said speaking at the meeting in Brussels that he was deprived of his city council membership after asking questions about the role played by one of Lithuania's national heroes in the Holocaust. Titov said Lithuania's supreme court ruled that he had "violated his oath of office for the city."

Lithuanian journalist Giedrius Grabauskas described the Lithuanian democracy as "fake," citing cases of police bullying opposition activists.

"The translated books on the fascists were confiscated and the publisher fined. The truth about the fascist past is forbidden by this government, which on the contrary does not confiscate antisemitic books published in Lithuania! Left-wing parties, Russians and Jews are considered enemies of the state in Lithuania," Grabauskas said.

According to Estonian lawyer Sergei Seredenko, the three Baltic states have a common systemic problem.

"They pretend to ensure the defense of human rights ... activists, but they don't when it comes to Russian-speaking minorities. They are deaf to them. The European Union pretends to be the defender of values, freedom, democracy, rule of law, but it fails to have them applied everywhere in Europe," Seredenko stressed.

At the meeting in Brussels, Catalan independence supporter, member of the European Parliament Josep Maria Terricabras, voiced his support for ethnic minorities in the Baltic states, comparing the trial of the Catalan ministers in Madrid with unlawful detentions in the Baltic countries.

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