Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

To President Michele Nicoletti

Secretary-General Wojciech Sawicki

Chairmen of the parliaments of Austria, Azerbaijan, Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, United Kingdom, Hungary, Germany, Greece, Georgia, Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine, Finland, France, Croatia, Montenegro, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Sweden, Estonia

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I address you at the request to a certain extent of your colleague, the speaker of the Latvian parliament of the unrepresented[1] Alexander Gaponenko. At the time of the dispatch of the material, Mr. Gaponenko is in prison and handed me his letter through a lawyer.

In my opinion, there are no reasons compatible with the common European humanitarian values for his arrest[2], and Mr. Gaponenko should be recognized as a prisoner of conscience.

The attached file contains:

1) Gaponenko’s letter

2) the opinion of Latvian Human Rights Committee

3) a letter from representatives of the Russian intelligentsia of Latvia

In addition, I inform you that the amendments to the Education law, described in letter 3 as a bill, adopted and proclaimed by the President on April 2. It was the organization of non-violent resistance to this initiative that probably served as the real reason for Mr. Gaponenko’s arrest.

Vladimirs Buzajevs, Latvian Human Rights Committee’s co-chairman[3]

Riga, May 20, 2018

Letter 1

To representatives of parliaments of the EС member states

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In February 2018 I have sent you a letter on behalf of the members of intelligentsia of national minorities of Latvia. The letter contained a request to deprive Latvia of its membership in The European Council if a law eliminating education in Russian language in Latvia is passed. This law was passed on 2 April. National minorities have protested this with rallies, demonstrations, and petitions. Latvian government responded to this with repressions by instituting criminal cases against the leaders of the protest movement.

A criminal case was launched against myself on 4 April and on 20 April I was arrested and given 6 months of jail time, apparently to allow the investigation to be conducted. At the moment I am in custody in Riga Central Jail for my human rights activism. I am accused of incitement to ethnic hatred (Article 78 Part 2 of Criminal Code of Latvia) through social media posts, radio and television appearances, and producing documentary films. These publications were aimed at defending the right of Russians and other national minorities to preserving their identity. I have been denied my constitutional right of freedom of opinion and freedom of speech and international treaties such as International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have been broken. In addition to that I am accused of undermining the state system of Latvia (Article 80 of Criminal Code of Latvia). There is no evidence of this and there cannot be any. What is in fact happening is persecution of human rights activists for their work, primarily for their pleas to European institutions.

I am asking you to look into the persecution of human rights activists of Latvia, including my case, call upon the government of Latvia to restore the right of national minorities to preserving their identity, prevent further crimes against humanity and persecution of persons based on their ethnic, cultural, language and religious belonging.

The European Council was established to defend human rights, prevent politicides, ethnocides, and genocides, and improve the issues of persecution of national minorities and human rights activists.

Aleksandr Gaponenko, Honorary professor of Baltic International Academy, PhD, economic sciences

7 May 2018, Riga Central Jail

[1] Examples of the Latvian parliament of the unrepresented activity:

https://www.osce.org/odihr/106319?download=true

https://www.rubaltic.ru/articles/european_human_rights_expert_people_who_pay_taxes_also_deserve_a_vote29012014/

[2] as an example of Mr. Gaponenko’s public activity, I will bring his monograph, published on April 4, on the day of the institution of a criminal case against him: http://www.baltexpert.com/2018/04/04/latvia-development-results-for-2007-2017-and-the-forecast-for-2018-2022/

Official information about the detention of Alexander Gaponenko is available on the website of the security police in a message dated April 23: http://www.dp.gov.lv/en/

[3] Web site of the Committee: http://lhrc.lv/index.php?lang=en&mendes=men1#textbegin

 

Letter 2

Opinion of the Latvian human rights committee

May 10, 2018, Riga

For: Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues

Latvia: pressure on minority rights activists by authorities

In Latvia, a campaign of harassment against national minority activists has turned to a large scale over the last two weeks. It is mainly conducted by the Security Police, subordinated to the ministry of interior.

The target of the pressure is the non-violent movement for the defense of Russian-language schools, which we support. On March 31, the movement has held a large parents’ conference in Riga. On April 18, the Security Police initiated criminal proceedings on this conference. It also announced an intention to investigate the mass rally of May 1 in the same proceedings.[1]

As at May 9, at least five participants of the conference (mostly parents themselves) have been called to the Security Police for questioning, partly as suspects, partly as witnesses (so far; a witness can be forced to witness, which makes it easier to turn him of her into a suspect later):

  1. Ms Tatjana Zdanoka, co-chair of Latvian Russian Union political party, former Member of the European Parliament,[2]
  2. Ms Alla Berezovska, a journalist,
  3. Ms Jevgenija Krjukova,
  4. Mr Aleksandrs Livcaks,
  5. Ms Diana Raizere-Rubcova. Unlike the previous ones, she was not a keynote speaker, but expressed her opinion during a “free microphone” session.

On May 8, one of the keynote speakers, Mr Vladimirs Lindermans[3] has been arrested in Riga by masked people without uniform. Later, the Security Police has clarified those were its officers acting in the criminal proceedings initiated on April 18.[4]

Everyone may watch the full recording of the conference, provided by its organisers online.[5] One will make sure that there were no calls for violence. The same applies to the final document of the conference.[6]

We believe that the main reason for increased pressure is simple. The scale of protests of Russian-speakers against the ongoing destruction of bilingual high school education and limitation of mother tongue usage in primary school, has grown since autumn, 2017. Even the authorities recognized that approximately 5,000 people took part in the event of May 1.[7]

We kindly ask you to remind the Latvian authorities about the need to enter into frank dialogue with national minorities, and to have their meaningful participation in decision-making on their education, instead of political intimidation.

P.S. One other case might be connected with the same campaign as well. On April 20, Dr Aleksandrs Gaponenko had been arrested, and detained for two months, in a separate criminal case. While he is prone to radical statements on various issues, he also took part in the campaign for defending the minority schools, and we are not aware of any violent inclinations in his activism. Several other activists of the movement have also been questioned by the Security Police on various occasions before, and it attacked the opponents of governmental education policy in its annual public report.[8]

Yours sincerely,

Aleksandrs Kuzmins, LL.M., secretary-executive

 

Letter 3

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

To President Michele Nicoletti

Secretary-General Wojciech Sawicki

Chairmen of the parliaments of Austria, Azerbaijan, Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, United Kingdom, Hungary, Germany, Greece, Georgia, Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine, Finland, France, Croatia, Montenegro, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Sweden, Estonia.

On Urgent Measures to Prevent the Dismantling of the Education System of National Minorities in Latvia

Ladies and gentlemen!

PACE is the oldest and most authoritative body promoting cooperation between European countries in the field of legal standards, human rights, democratic development, rule of law and cultural interaction.

   Members of the Council of Europe are obliged to act in accordance with the principles laid down in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. One of the cornerstones of this Convention is the principle of non-discrimination, including that on the basis of ethnicity and language.

On January 23, 2018, PACE adopted the resolution «Protection and Development of Regional or Minority Languages in Europe» (No. 2196). This resolution gives clear recommendations to members of the organization to respect the rights of national minorities to preserve their language, including in education. The Cabinet of Ministers of Latvia on the same day adopted the concept of transferring the schools of national minorities, mostly schools with instruction in Russian, to the Latvian language of instruction.

The PACE resolution, in particular, says that any language is in itself a value and it is vital for the reproduction of community culture. The document calls for giving the languages ​​of national minorities the status of a second official one where it is traditionally used. It is mentioned that parents determine the language of their children’s education, as well as the fact that no educational reforms should worsen the conditions of education in the mother tongue in the educational institutions of national minorities.

The Government of Latvia has decided to submit amendments to the education laws to the Parliament. The amendments provide for a full transfer of education in secondary schools to the Latvian language, for a prevailing position of Latvian in the basic schools and preschool institutions within three years. The amendments concern not only public, but also private educational institutions, with the choice of the language of instruction in the latter having been free so far.

This reform is carried out by force; mass protests of parents and pupils are not taken into account by the authorities. They do not take into account the results of the referendum in 2012, on giving the Russian language the status of the second official one in the country. The referendum was organized in response to a far-right collection of signatures for the complete elimination of education in the languages ​​of national minorities.

At the referendum, the overwhelming majority of representatives of national minorities (those entitled to vote) were in favour of raising the status of the Russian language, which, according to the latest population census (2011), was the main family language for 37% of the population. In many areas, more than half of all referendum participants voted for this proposal[9]

   There is no doubt that government bills, without external pressure, will be adopted by the current composition of the parliament in the unchanged form, already in the first quarter of 2018. The reason for this is that, 27 years after the proclamation of independence, 40% of national minorities remain deprived of citizenship of the country of residence and do not have their representatives in the parliament.  

The Latvian authorities, abolishing the education in the minority languages, which existed in Latvia under all regimes[10] at least from the moment of its declaration of independence in 1918, grossly violate the principles on which the Council of Europe is built and violate the standards of human rights and democratic development established by the organization.

We, representatives of the intelligentsia of national minorities, are extremely concerned by the prospect of forcible assimilation of members of our ethnic groups. Therefore, we invite the leadership and members of the PACE to exert pressure on Latvia in the process of discussing the bills in the parliament, and, should it pass laws abolishing education in the languages of national minorities, to expel Latvia from the organization.

Vyacheslav Altukhov, Ph.D., Chairman of the Duma of the Russian Community of Latvia

Vladimir Bagirov, Associate Professor

Vladimir Buzaev, Ph.D., Co-chairman of the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)

Valery Bukhvalov, Ph.D.

Alexander Gaponenko, Ph.D.

Victor Gushchin, Ph.D., Coordinator of the Council of NGOs of Latvia

Tatjana Zdanok, Ph.D., member of the European Parliament

Konstantin Matveev, Associate Professor

Oleg Nikiforov, Ph.D.

Jacob Pliner, Ph.D.

Erna Rait, Ph.D., author of school textbooks

Tatjana Feigmane, Ph.D.

Vladimir Khodakovsky, Ph.D.

P.S. More detailed information about the system of education of national minorities in Latvia is contained in the Latvian Human Rights Committee’s (F.I.D.H) monographs, Legal and Social Situation of the Russian-speaking minority in Latvia (2013, Chapter 3)[11] and Situation juridique et sociale de la minorite russophone in Lettonie (2014, Chapitre 3)[12]. The data, including a description of the government’s immediate plans, are updated in the LHRC documents for the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, 2017 (Articles 12-14) and the LHRC update report for the ECRI and the Advisory Committee on the FCNM, November 2017 (Education, p. 2-6)[13].

[1] http://www.dp.gov.lv/lv/noderigi/publikacijas/par-kriminalprocesa-uzsaksanu.art103 (LV)

[2] Disclosure – before returning to high-scale politics, Ms Zdanoka was a co-chair of LHRC, before 2004. During her later  membership in the European Parliament, the signatory was her parliamentary assistant.

[3] A radical political activist not currently belonging to any party, and formerly acquitted by Latvian courts in a series of other cases, including at least one initiated by the Security Police. Media stories on acquittals of Mr Lindermans by Latvian courts, in Russian language. 2009 case – http://rus.tvnet.lv/novosti/politika/3025-rizhskiy_okruzhnoy_sud_opravdal_lindermana ; 2016 case –   https://eadaily.com/ru/news/2016/12/21/latviyskiy-oppozicioner-oderzhal-pobedu-nad-gosudarstvom-v-sude (the media outlet is “yellow press”, but the essence is correct); 2017 case — http://rus.delfi.lv/news/daily/criminal/delo-o-chp-na-adazhskoj-voennoj-baze-rossiyane-na-svobode-lindermana-opravdali.d?id=49107851

[4] http://www.dp.gov.lv/lv/noderigi/publikacijas/par-personas-aizturesanu.art104 (LV)

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgfZ_JHmhiM (RU)

[6] http://www.shtab.lv/main.php?w2=doc&id=213 (RU)

[7] https://rus.lsm.lv/statja/novosti/politika/v-rige-proshlo-shestvie-v-zaschitu-shkol-nacmenshinstv.a276851/  (RU)

[8] http://dp.gov.lv/lv/?rt=documents&ac=download&id=32 (LV)

[9] Referendum data are available on the CEC website at: https://www.cvk.lv/pub/public/30287.html

[10] The first Russian school in Latvia was founded in 1789: http://www.russkije.lv/en/lib/read/russian-schooll-in-prerevolutionary-russia.html

[11] http://www.russkije.lv/files/images/text/PDF_Files/Legal-and-social-situation.pdf

[12] http://www.rusojuz.lv/public/uploads/books/15/book.pdf

[13] Both documents at http://lhrc.lv/index.php?lang=en&mendes=men6&agod=2017