OCCRP Condemns Press Censorship In Latvia
OCCRP strongly condemns the brazen stifling of press freedom by the Latvian court, which has frozen the assets of the publisher of Ir, a weekly investigative journal.
Following a defamation claim filed by bankruptcy administrator Maris Spruds against Ir, the court in the capital city of Riga seized more than US$ 30,000 from Cits Medijs, the publisher of the magazine.
This is the first time that the Baltic state has frozen assets before a defamation trial has even begun, thus “raising questions about its propriety and having potentially serious consequences for other publications working to expose inconvenient truths,” reports Public Broadcasting of Latvia (LSM).
Inga Springe, a journalist from the Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism Re:Baltica, which is an Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) partner, says that the court ruling threatens investigative journalism in Latvia, which is already weak.
The defamation claim was filed by Spruds over a series of articles published in the fall of 2012. Ir says that it stands by its articles.
According to Springe, the stories do not accuse Spruds specifically of any wrongdoing, and instead focus on insolvency cases related to high-profile figures in Latvia. The journalist said Spruds has challenged the article and the accompanying picture on the magazine's cover—but not any specific facts within it.
Ir magazine's editor-in-chief Nellija Locmele said, “Mr. Spruds has no hope of winning the case in a trial, so he is playing for time and trying to harm Ir by whatever means he can. This parody of justice affirms how much the Latvian court system is in need of real reforms,” reports LSM.
The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism Re:Baltica is an important partner of OCCRP, which condemns the premature and harsh manner in which the Latvian court has dealt with press freedom in this case.
Said OCCRP editor Drew Sullivan, “This ruling is ridiculous although its not the first absurd ruling by Latvian courts on media issues. Media must be protected by courts and not harassed by them. 'Ir’ has not been found guilty of anything so this requirement by the court is tantamount to stifling the media for no reason."