Journalist and netizen face incompetent, secretive court
Reporters Without Borders is disturbed by the way the Latvian judicial system is treating investigative journalist Leonids Jakobsons and netizen Ilmars Poikans, who are being tried behind closed doors by a judge whose qualifications for handling media cases is questionable.
Jakobsons is being prosecuted for revealing emails exposing alleged wrongdoing by Riga’s mayor, while Poikans is on trial for circulating the details of the salaries received by government staffers in 2011. Reporters Without Borders calls for an open trial in both cases and guarantees of qualified judicial decision-making.
There are no grounds for the arbitrary decision to bar the public from these trials. In Latvia, all trials are supposed to be public except those involveing minors, people who are ill, family cases and classified information. Neither case meets these criteria and the information involved is not a state secret.
Furthermore, the authorities themselves have published the information that Poikans revealed about the salaries of government officials.
There is no evidence that the judge in charge of both cases, Una Melameda, has the required expertise. In 2009, parliament appointed her to the position of Zemesgramatu Tiesnese, a section of the justice department that monitors the real estate market. But her transfer to the Riga court on 24 February was done without parliament’s approval.
Reporters Without Borders regrets that her ability to take the public interest into account when judging a media case has not been demonstrated, and is concerned that her first decision has been to suspend transparency in cases that interest Latvian public opinion.
At the very least, Reporters Without Borders calls on Melameda to open the hearings to the public, as Poikans and Jakobsons both has requested. RWB also urges the Riga Centre District Court reflect the importance of these two cases to freedom of information in Latvia by assigning them to a judge who has specialized in cases involving freedom of information.
Finally, Reporters Without Borders points out that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in past cases that if the public interest’s in knowing something is demonstrated, it should take precedence over the right to privacy.
Latvia is ranked 37th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.