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WAN concerned at criminal prosecution and apparent intimidation campaign against daily

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a 4 July 2005 letter to Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis:

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis
Riga, Latvia
Email: [email protected]

4 July 2005

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 100 countries, to express our serious concern at the criminal prosecution and the apparent intimidation campaign against the Russian-language daily Chas.

According to reports, on 16 March the Latvian security services brought a criminal action against Chas, the country's most influential Russian-language newspaper and a strong supporter of Russian minority rights, for publishing a letter allegedly inciting ethnic hatred. Editor-in-chief Ksenia Zagorovskaya and leading columnist Leonid Fedoseyev have been summoned by the police for interrogation.

We are concerned by claims that the criminal charge may be politically motivated. The legal action was brought the day after Chas suggested that the annual march by Latvian Waffen SS veterans in Riga should be stopped and on the day that it published articles on Waffen SS war crimes. Furthermore, the prosecution follows a failed attempt to bring a civil suit against the newspaper by Alexander Kirshteins, a member of parliament who has made several statements perceived to be anti-Russian. The alleged campaign of harassment includes 20 tax and financial inspections of Chas and its publishing house, Petits, in the last ten months.

We respectfully call on you to ensure that neither financial inspections nor the criminal law are used as a political tool to suppress critical comment. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that your country fully respects international standards of freedom of expression.

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin O?Reilly
World Association of Newspapers

George Brock
World Editors Forum

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