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LATVIA: Broadcasting permit canceled for exiled Russian broadcaster Dozhd TV

Broadcasting permit canceled for exiled Russian broadcaster Dozhd TV

Committee to Protect Journalists (08.12.2022) — Latvian authorities must reverse their decision to cancel the broadcasting permit of independent broadcaster Dozhd TV (TV Rain), the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.


On Tuesday, December 6, the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP), the country’s media regulator, canceled the outlet’s broadcasting authorization “due to a threat to national security and public order” and accused the broadcaster of violating the country’s media law, according to multiple media reports, a statement by the regulator, and its official decision.


The regulator ordered the channel to stop broadcasting on Thursday, December 8, and ordered its programming on YouTube to be blocked in Latvia as well, those reports said.


Dozhd TV was based in Russia until March 3, when it was forced to suspend its work and flee the country amid a crackdown on coverage of Russia’s war on Ukraine. The channel resumed operations from exile in July after obtaining a broadcasting permit from Latvian authorities, news reports said.


“As a country that has been through the process of building vibrant independent media, Latvia knows well that this process is hardly smooth and easy. Latvian authorities should ensure that any regulatory violations by media outlets are handled proportionately, and that outlets’ licenses are only revoked as a last resort,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York. “Authorities should reverse their decision to strip Dozhd TV of its broadcast authorization, and should continue hosting the media outlet and its journalists, who could otherwise become even an easier target for Russian authorities.”


Because Dozhd TV’s Latvian license granted the channel broadcast rights to other European countries, the cancellation will also result in the broadcaster being taken off-air in Estonia and Lithuania, according to media reports and the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission. CPJ was unable to immediately confirm the other countries where the broadcaster may be barred from broadcasting.


Before canceling the broadcaster’s license, the NEPLP cited Dozhd TV for multiple alleged violations. In November, the NEPLP fined Dozhd TV 4,000 euros (US$4,200) for failing to provide a Latvian-language soundtrack to its programming, according to the regulator’s December 6 decision, published on its website.


Dozhd TV chief editor Tikhon Dzyadko told CPJ via email and messaging app that the channel had appealed that decision as unfounded, given that Dozhd’s application for a Latvian license stated that the channel would not be able to provide a Latvian soundtrack before 2023.


“We had no desire to break the laws, but with the relaunch, we were not able to implement everything at once,” he told CPJ. He said the NEPLP had accepted the outlet’s application which stipulated that the channel would feature Latvian subtitles for its 2022 programming and its archives, but added that Dozhd TV had fallen behind on producing those.


On December 2, the NEPLP fined Dozhd TV 10,000 euros (US$10,500) for having shown a map that labeled Crimea as part of Russia and for referring to the Russian military as “our army,” according to media reports and the regulator’s decision.


Also on December 2, the Latvian State Security Service launched an investigation into Dozhd TV after journalist Aleksei Korostelev made comments during a broadcast the previous day that implied that the broadcaster had assisted the Russian military in Ukraine.


Korostelev, who was fired on December 2, later explained that he had poorly phrased his comments and did not support the invasion. The investigation concluded that those comments were “directed against the interests of Latvia’s national security,” according to a statement by the State Security Service.


The final December 6 decision to cancel Dozhd TV’s licence was made based on Article 21.3.8 of the Latvian Electronic Media Act, which empowers the regulator to cancel the broadcast permit of any outlet that “threatens national security or significantly threatens public order or security,” judging that Korostelev’s comments were calls “to support a country, recognized as a state supporting terrorism,” according to regulator’s decision.


The two fines were also considered when reaching that decision, NEPLP Vice-Chair Aurēlija Ieva Druviete told CPJ via email.


Dzyadko also wrote on Telegram that the channel “had never, is not, and will never” help the Russian army with equipment. During a live broadcast on Tuesday, he compared the ban in Latvia with the channel being taken off air in Russia in 2014.


In that broadcast, Dzyadko said that no Dozhd TV representative was invited to the NEPLP meeting that decided the outlet’s suspension, and the outlet was unable to argue on its behalf. The regulator wrote in its decision that the “urgency” of the situation allowed it to decide without hearing from the channel’s management.


NEPLP President Ivars Āboliņš wrote on Twitter that Dozhd TV’s management “did not understand the nature and gravity of each individual violation” of Latvia’s regulations.


In a statement reviewed by CPJ, Āboliņš added that Latvia had accepted “a large number” of Russian media outlets and journalists into the country, who had not violated the country’s laws. He said that Dozhd TV had “systematically, significantly and unequivocally violated the regulatory acts and has been punished accordingly.”


Dzyadko told CPJ via email that he believed the suspension was “absurd and unjustified,” and said the broadcaster’s staff “strongly oppose the accusations.”


In a statement, Dozhd TV said it will stop broadcasting on cable in Latvia, but would continue its work on YouTube. The station’s general director Natalia Sindeyeva told independent news website Meduza, and Dzyadko confirmed to CPJ, that about 20% of the station’s revenue comes from its cable broadcasting.


Dozhd TV has one month to appeal the decision, and Dzyadko told CPJ that the channel was “considering options.”


CPJ emailed the Latvian State Security Service for comment, but did not receive any reply.


Photo credits: Reuters

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LATVIA : Orthodox Church of Latvia seceded from Moscow Patriarchate

Orthodox Church of Latvia seceded from Moscow

Orthodox Times (10.09.2022) – https://bit.ly/3RS5SK0The Latvian parliament, Saeima, approved the full independence of the Orthodox Church of Latvia, from the Patriarchate of Moscow, in a vote that took place on Thursday.

According to a statement from the Parliament, “the Saeima adopted urgent amendments to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church affirming the full independence of the Latvian Orthodox Church with all its dioceses, parishes, and institutions from any church authority outside Latvia (autocephalous church)”.

Specifically, Artuss Kaimiņš, Chair of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee, after the draft bill passed from the Parliament, stressed that “With the adoption of the Law, the historically existing autonomy and independence of the Latvian Orthodox Church is strengthened, preventing the Russian Orthodox Church from having influence or power over our Orthodox Church”.

He even added that “such a decision is in the interests of Latvian Orthodox Christians, society as a whole, and national security.”

In addition, the Law establishes the procedure for informing Latvian state institutions and private individuals “about the accession to and removal from office of the Head of the Church, metropolitans, archbishops, and bishops.”

According to the explanatory note to the Draft Law, the definition of the scope of legal status in the Law does not affect or interfere with the Church’s doctrine of faith and canon law.

The Law stresses that, by 31 October, the Church will have to align its statutes with the amendments made to the Law on the status of the church.

By 1 October, the Chancery of the President must be notified of the appointment of the Head of the church, metropolitans, archbishops, and bishops.

This decision by the Latvian parliament, comes a few days after the country’s President, Egils Levits, tabled the bill saying that “this bill restores the historical status of the Orthodox Church of Latvia”, stressing that the independence of the Church established “by the 6(19) July 1921 Tomos issued by Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Tikhon to Archbishop Jānis Pommers and the Cabinet of Ministers Regulation of 8 October 1926 on the Status of the Orthodox Church”.

The main goal is, as described in the bill, “to preclude any influence or power over our orthodox church by the Patriarch of Moscow. Rejecting any link with the Patriarch of Moscow is a crucial matter for our orthodox community, the whole society of Latvia and national security.”

The President of Latvia says actually that “on an independent and democratic state of Latvia based on the rule of law the orthodox community needs its own autonomous and independent church. That has been, is and will always be the position of the state of Latvia. Under Archibishop Jānis Pommers, this was already achieved shortly after the proclamation of the Republic of Latvia.”

He also informed that he has discussed the law with the Speaker of the Parliament and the chairpersons of all parliamentary groups of the Saeima, who fully supported this initiative.

The Latvian President added that the Church had also been informed, and he confirmed that “the Latvian Orthodox Church and Metropolitan Alexander can count on full support from the state of Latvia as an autocephalous church henceforth also recognised in law”.

What the Orthodox Church of Latvia says

The Church of Latvia, after the presidential and parliamentary announcements, informs the faithful that this decision is of a legal nature and that the adopted changes concern the legal status of the Church.

It clarifies that: “The state established the status of our Church as autocephalous. The state has determined that the Latvian Orthodox Church is legally independent from any ecclesiastical center located outside of Latvia, maintaining spiritual, prayerful and liturgical communion with all canonical Orthodox churches of the world.

The change of status does not change the Orthodox faith, the doctrines, the liturgical life of the Church, the calendar, the sacred liturgical language, the rituals, the traditions and the inner church life”.

Finally, it calls on clergy and laity to maintain the unity of the Church, “strictly observing the laws of our state, Latvia.

Living spiritually and prayerfully in unspoken unity with the entire Orthodox world, let us preserve the purity of our faith and strengthen Holy Orthodoxy in the land of Latvia.”

The reaction of the Church of Russia

The Russian Orthodox Church reacted immediately – as expected – to the decision of the Latvian state to pass a law on the separation of the country’s Church from the Moscow Patriarchate.

Archpriest Nikolai Balasov, former vice-president of the department of external church relations of the Moscow Patriarchate and current adviser to Patriarch Kirill, told the Interfax news agency that “obviously, they firmly believe in political expediency and state security, and they are not afraid of God to declare autocephaly.”

According to him, such a decision by the state authorities regarding the status of the Church, fits perfectly “in the general logic of decision-making in many European countries”.

“Did anyone doubt? This is how Europe is now”, he pointed out characteristically, wondering how it is possible in a secular state where the Church has been separated from the state by the Constitution, to have a say in the affairs of the Church. “They have overcome the Middle Ages”, he pointed out characteristically.

Photo: orthodoxtimes.com


Further reading

Latvian saeiman adopts a law on separation of the Latvian Orthodox Church Russian Church


Russian Orthodox Church outraged by interference of Latvian secular authorities in church affairs


Riga seeking independence of Latvian Orthodox Church from Moscow Patriarchate (updated)


Latvian Saeima endorses law on independence of Latvian Orthodox Church


Further reading about FORB in Latvia on HRWF website

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LATVIA: Latvia threatens to “liquidate” the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Latvia, following Russia, threatens to “liquidate” the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Unbelievably, 24 hours after a news media portal attacked the JWs, the General Prosecutor’s Office announced proceedings aimed at a possible Russian-style “termination.”

By Massimo Introvigne


Bitter Winter (02.04.2022) – https://bit.ly/3r7FxwI – In these days, all democratic countries are busy emphasizing how different they are from Russia. All narratives about the present crisis are about moral values, not international treaties only. It is an appropriate historical moment, particularly for countries in the European Union, to reflect on how precious, and at the same time fragile, are the values of democracy and human rights. Religious liberty is a key human right. The attitude of Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), who supported the war with theological motivations, as well as the denial of religious freedom in the pseudo-republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, have been widely mentioned as alarm bells alerting the rest of the world to the dangers of the Russian notion of “spiritual security,” which denies the right to freely operate and proselytize to all religions other than the ROC.

NGOs specialized in religious liberty have quoted the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “liquidated” in Russia in 2017, as the clearest example of Russia’s open challenge to the European Convention on Human Rights and its principle of freedom of religion or belief. On December 17, 2021, some two months before the war in Ukraine, the U.S. Department of State released a strong-worded statement against “the increased repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a number of countries.” It was co-signed with the United States by another eleven countries, including European Union member states Denmark, the Netherlands, Greece, Poland, Slovakia, Latvia, and Lithuania, plus Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Brazil. The signature of Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania, countries with vivid memories of Soviet oppression and denial of religious liberty, was not surprising.

It would seem that this is the worst possible moment for any democratic country, and perhaps the more so for Eastern European countries under direct Russian threat, to imitate Russia and threaten to “liquidate” minority religious organizations, particularly the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yet, as unbelievable as it might appear, on March 30, 2022, in the middle of the war in Ukraine, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Latvia issued a press release announcing that there may be “grounds to conclude that the activities of the religious organization ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ may be in conflict with the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia and other regulatory enactments, its activities may endanger public order, health and morals.” Accordingly, on March 30, 2022, a “resolution of the Acting Prosecutor General” launched an investigation “to verify the compliance of the Jehovah’s Witnesses with the requirements of the law.” Even before starting such an investigation, the press release warned that religious organizations that violate the Constitution of Latvia will be “terminated,” or liquidated.

As justification for this exceptional announcement, the General Prosecutor’s Office mentioned that on March 28 and 29, 2022, the news portal TVNET had published emotionally tainted stories of “apostates” who had left the organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Academics have come to recognize the apostates’ “atrocity stories” as a distinctive literary genre of religious controversy, and have warned against the credibility that can be given to these accounts.

And yes, the dates are correct. On March 28 and 29, TVNET published the “atrocity stories” of the apostates and on March 30 a resolution of the General Prosecutor’s Office ordered the investigation. Normally, even when murder or gross political corruption are denounced by sensational news media articles, the authorities take some time to investigate, certainly more than 24 hours. One possible explanation is that justice in Latvia is lightning fast, a model for the rest of the world, and that it was enough for the Acting Prosecutor General to quickly read two media articles to blindly believe their allegations and take immediate action. Another explanation is that the TVNET publication was coordinated with the General Prosecutor’s Office, and the articles and the official resolution were two parts of a mechanism built beforehand to frame the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

What is even more striking in the incident is that what happened in Latvia is a textbook example of actions denounced in a report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) as part of a typical Russian authoritarian mechanism, something democratic countries are supposed to denounce and certainly not to imitate. The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Its Commissioners are appointed by the President and by Congressional leaders of both political parties.

According to the USCIRF report, first, sensational accounts are published in the media (often based on stories, real or otherwise, by apostate ex-members) aimed at persuading the population that certain religious minorities are sinister “totalitarian cults” (the Russian word used is “секта,” “sekta,” but this and similar words should be translated as “cult,” as I have explained elsewhere). When the public opinion has been sufficiently manipulated, the authorities, which in most cases had instigated the campaign in the first place, state that they have heard the requests of the population and will now enact laws against the “totalitarian cults.” The Russian authorities, after such a campaign, stated, as the USCRIF report summarized, that “‘totalitarian sects [cults]’ were ‘growing like mushrooms,’ and ‘present[ed] a distinct threat to society’ that needed to be addressed by legal mechanisms.” The Russian politician who made this announcement was Vladimir Putin himself.

The ultrarapid sequence of articles by TVNET, published both in Latvian and in Russian, and the resolution and press release by the General Prosecutor’s Office repeated exactly Putin’s model. The first article declared in its very first paragraph that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a “totalitarian cult” (which, by the way, is a concept invented by Russian anti-cultists and unknown to international scholarly literature) and that TVNET will publish “a series of articles” proving this statement, giving voice to “former Jehovah’s Witnesses” and “experts.” By “experts” TVNET means anti-cultists, not scholars, and by “former members” it means “apostates.” As a series of articles in Bitter Winter demonstrated, “apostate” and “former member” are not synonymous. Only a small minority of those who leave a religious organization become “apostates,” i.e., militant opponents of the religions they have left. The apostate accounts are obviously biased, and certainly cannot be the only or the main source of information about a religion.

The first article is about a vocal Latvian apostate called Jānis Folkmanis. He compares the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the Soviets and the Nazis, and argues that the Jehovah’s Witnesses practice mental manipulation, a criticism that seems to be based on the pseudo-scientific and discredited notion of “brainwashing,” dismissed also in a recent judgment issued by the European Court of Human Rights in a case involving Jehovah’s Witnesses, and “love bombing,” a practice once used by missionaries of the Unification Church, a Korean new religious movement, to make the potential converts feel loved and accepted by the group. Anti-cultists routinely use the expression to criticize all “cults.”

Folkmanis mentions, with an approving attitude, that “in Russia the Jehovah’s Witnesses are recognized as an extremist organization and their activities are banned,” and uses the Russian standard argument that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are “extremist” because they believe that theirs is “the only true religion.” That a myriad of texts by other religions, including the Russian Orthodox Church, proclaims very much the same with respect to their own religion seems to be something Folkmanis is not aware of. Apart from the usual laundry list of accusations that are common in anti-cult literature, Folkmanis insists that the Jehovah’s Witnesses collect huge resources and are “essentially a transnational financial corporation.” This appears strange, if one considers the financial mechanisms granting much larger financial resources to the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and to other Christian churches in several European Union countries.

The argument Folkmanis uses to specially impress the readers, and perhaps the General Prosecutor, is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses hide, rather than reporting, cases of pedophilia and sexual abuse, a claim repeated in the second article by two female apostates, one of whom also vaguely mentions ostracism of disfellowshipped ex-members, and the fact that teachings about eschatology and the end of the world create a psychologically dangerous state of anger among the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Scholars of millenarianism disagree, and have noted that often members of religions whose teachings have an emphasis on eschatology are motivated to live moral lives and work for the common good. At any rate, the eschatological interests are hardly unique to the Jehovah’s Witnesses: in 2020, 29% of the U.S. adults regarded it as likely that apocalyptic disasters will come during their lifetime.

Concerning sexual abuse, all three apostates candidly admit that most of their information comes from the Internet, where of course they have only consulted articles and sources hostile to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Only Folkmanis mentions a case he claims to have personally witnessed, dating back to decades ago, where a woman who accused in a letter her brother of having sexually abused her was allegedly counseled not to inform the authorities. Of course, we have only Folkmanis’ word for this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this case, once properly investigated, would turn out to be completely baseless, as it happened in other similar cases concerning Jehovah’s Witnesses in several countries.

Bitter Winter published a series of articles on the issue of sexual abuse among the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which also examined the report of the Australian Royal Commission, which all the apostates interviewed by TVNET quote. Professor Holly Folk discussed the shortcomings of this report in one of our articles.

However, here again, the Latvian apostates have probably not even read the Royal Commission report, and rely on some journalistic accounts or news published in anti-Witnesses websites. Had they read the voluminous report, they would have discovered that, while we maintain that it relied on a doubtful methodology, it applied it to religion in general, not to Jehovah’s Witnesses only. If one takes the results of the Royal Commission at face value, the Jehovah’s Witnesses had some problems of sexual abuse not reported to the authorities, but not more, and in fact less, than the Roman Catholic Church and other mainline Christian denominations. Surely the General Prosecutor’s Office does not plan to recommend the “liquidation” of the Catholic Church in Latvia, yet all reports on the issue throughout the world evidence it has a problem of unreported sexual abuse more serious than the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Another typical, and malicious, confusion is to discuss cases of decades ago as if they had happened today. Not only laws on mandatory reporting of sexual abuse changed in many countries, but the general awareness of the problem was not the same, both in society in general and in religious bodies. As, happily, societies and religions became more aware of the tragedy of sexual abuse, laws evolved, and religious organizations also improved their procedures for monitoring and intervening. As the Catholic Church and other religions also did, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have constantly fine-tuned their procedures for preventing and confronting sexual abuse. While unfortunately no measures can eliminate all the cases, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not less effective than other religious organizations when it comes to their anti-abuse practices.

Sexual abuse, particularly of minors, is a horrific plague, but is not a unique problem of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Unfortunately, in the accounts of the Latvian apostates, a very serious societal problem is reduced to a pretext to single out a specific religious organization they try to destroy.

This is how things worked in Russia, up to the liquidation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and to the arrest and torture of their members. We expect democratic countries such as Latvia, which have experienced Soviet oppression and denial of religious freedom for decades, to do better. After all, Latvia co-signed a statement noting that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are “falsely designated as ‘extremist,’” and promising to “uphold the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to practice their religion and their beliefs (…) without fear, harassment, discrimination, or persecution.” Can somebody in Latvia please explain to the international community why the General Prosecutor’s Office of Latvia decided to believe Russian propaganda and two sensational media articles rather than statements signed by its own government?

Photo : Jehovah’s Witnesses demonstrating how to use the jw.org website in Riga, Latvia. Source: jw.org.


Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.

Further reading about FORB in Latvia on HRWF website

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LATVIA: Prosecutor General threatens to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses

Prosecutor General threatens to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses based on false media reports

JW Europe Office of Public Information (01.04.2022) — Jehovah’s Witnesses are gravely concerned that on Wednesday, March 30, the Prosecutor General’s Office issued a press statement threatening to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Latvia solely on the basis of disinformation published in two TVNET stories.


TVNET did not contact Jehovah’s Witnesses before publishing these unfounded allegations made by former Witnesses. Had they done so, they would have been provided with truthful and easily verifiable information supported by reputable scholars and decisions of international courts. Legal options against the defamatory and untrue statements and those who disseminated them are being considered.


These baseless attacks are reminiscent of the disinformation that Russia used to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses and persecute them, actions which have brought international reproach on the Russian government. On December 17, 2021, Latvia was among the cosignatories of a Joint Statement issued by the U.S. Department of State which expressed “grave concern” for the harassment and discrimination that Jehovah’s Witnesses face in some countries.


Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremely concerned that these baseless attacks will create a wave of religious intolerance against innocent citizens. They hope that the government will see to it that this gross injustice is rectified.


Jehovah’s Witnesses are a well-known Christian religion worshipping in over 200 countries. They are known as law-abiding citizens and an asset to Latvian society.


Photo: JW Europe Office


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