On December 3, Latvian State Security Service (Valsts drošības dienests) searched the apartaments and detained seven Latvian journalists, writing in Russian. They were writing articles for news agency Baltnews.lv. Among them were Andrey Yakovlev (Andrejs Jakovļevs), Vladimir Linderman (Vladimirs Lindermans), Andrey Solonenko (Andrejs Solopenko) and Alla Berezovskaya (Alla Berezovska).
After their apartments were searched, all the office equipment and means of communication were seized (including those of their family members), afterwards they were interrogated in the premises of the State Security Service. After the interrogations the journalists were released, but their equipment, bank cards and money in cash were not returned. On the same day, all pages of Baltnews on Facebook were blocked.
Following the interrogations, all journalists were declared suspected of violating policies, concerning EU sanctions against Russia.
The official statement of the State Security Service (SSS) says “The procedural activities were performed within the criminal proceedings led by SSS and initiated on 16 January 2020 pursuant to Section 84 Article 1 of the Criminal Law (for the violation of sanctions imposed by the United Nations, European Union and other international organisations or sanctions imposed by the Republic of Latvia). The information obtained from the investigation provides ground to suspicion that economic resources were passed onto a person who is subject to the European Union sanctions…”
The sentence for this crime is foreseen up to four years of imprisonment.
According to SSS, the work of the journalists provided that “economic resources were passed onto” Dmitry Kiselyov, who is as a person included to the personal sanctions list. However, Mr. Kiselyov is not an owner of the news agency Baltnews.lv. This agency is a part of state holding “Russia Today”, and the holding itself is not a subject of the sanction regime. Mr. Kiselyov is indeed one of the managers of this holding, but there is no logical reason to assume that journalist’s work for a state media can provide personal “economic resources” to its manager.
In order to understand the real reasons of these repressions we have to take a look on recent developments of situation with Latvian media publishing or broadcasting in Russian. These media are providing the information for almost 40% of the population for whom Russian is a native language.
During recent 10 years the media market in Latvia was diminishing. Major part of local newspapers in Russian disappeared from the market and a some of its former journalists found a new job in the online media of the neighbouring Russia. All seven persons who were detained by State Security Service on December, 3 are the local Latvian residents working for years for diverse media of Russian Federation.
This year Latvian authorities launched a mass scale campaign against Russian media. Under the pressure of state institutions was Latvian TV-chanel broadcasting in Russian “The First Baltic Chanel”. They had to stop broadcasting the local news as of March 20, 2020.
On June 11, 2020 Latvian Parliament excluded the major part of TV channels broadcasting in Russian from the main broadcast package of local cable operators. It is crucial to realise that the aim of these new restrictions was not a limitation of “Russian state propaganda on TV”, but limitation of all TV channels broadcasting in Russian, even the ones belonging to opposition or being pro-Western, cultural or educative.
In November, 2020 the Latvian state decided starting from 2021 to stop broadcasting in Russian on state owned channel LTV-7.
Therefore we can assume that the recent arrests of local journalists writing in Russian fit perfectly in the main state strategy of suppressing and complete destruction of local media in Russian.
Well known Latvian Russian journalist Alla Berezovskaya, was working for diverse newspapers during 35 years, commented on the recent repressions: “How can a musician be blamed for playing? A poet for writing poems? Journalist for writing news and analysis? How it can happen in democratic Latvia in the 21st century? I see it as a war launched against us. A war is a war, it requires prisoners and captures the spoils of war. Fortunately, friends helped by giving away their old computer”.