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Court enforces 1 000 euros from Ušakovs for Riga City Council deputy

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Vilnis Ķirsis (L) and Nils Ušakovs (R)

Riga City Vidzeme Suburb Court has declined suspended Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs plea against Riga City Council deputy Vilnis Ķirsis over supposedly offensive statements the latter made against the plaintiff.

According to the court ruling available to LETA, the plea was declined and proceedings in Ušakovs’ plea to find statements made by Ķirsis as offensive and untrue have ended. On top of that, the court has enforced from Ušakovs EUR 1 000 in favour of Ķirsis to cover litigation costs.

The court of justice also noted that the audio recording from a city council meeting shows that Ķirsis said the following: «And if someone asks what the face of corruption is like, they I can say we see two faces of corruption at every meeting of Riga City Council. […]». The court concluded that the statement «face of corruption», considering the content of the sentence and grammatical structure, is nothing more than a reference to a question made by a Riga resident, not a statement that contains the opinion of the plaintiff. As for the part of the statement applied to Ušakovs – Riga City Council’s face of corruption – contains claims not about the plaintiff’s allowed corruption activities, but the corruption in the city council, where the creative expression «face of corruption» is applied to Ušakovs as the head of the municipality.

The court of justice detailed in the ruling that, considering how over a long period of time there has been multiple public accounts regarding suspicions of corruption involving Riga City Council or officials of its capital association and criminal processes were initiated following said suspicions, Ķirsis’ statement regarding corruption in the city council cannot be considered one without justified base.

The ruling also explains that Ķirsis provided the court with excerpts from several minutes of Riga City Council meetings that allow for the conclusion that during meetings chaired by Ušakovs «a certain freedom of speech and expressions was allowed, as part of which participants were allowed to not only criticize opponents but also make offensive statements towards each other». Respectively the court believes this particular detail cannot be ignored in the context of Ķirsis’ statement, because established practice in the general discussion culture also influences the way every participating deputy voices his or her opinions.

The court concluded in the ruling that Ušakovs as chairman of Riga City Council and board chairman of Harmony political party is subjected to the highest level of permitted criticism.

«Additionally the plaintiff as the head of Latvia’s largest municipality needs to understand and accept that assessment of the municipal council’s work (both positive and negative), criticisms and accusations of different kind both from individuals and society as a whole can be associated with and directed at the plaintiff as the head of the municipality,» the ruling explains.

The court also referenced the practice of the European Court of Human Rights. This court noted in its 2007 ruling in the case Diena et Ozoliņš c Lettonie that even statements that offend politicians and state officials is the price one has to pay for political competition and freedom of public discussions, which serve as guarantees for democratic society.

The ruling is subject to appeal within 20 days.

The dispute is associated with events that took place during Riga City Council’s meeting of 31 October 2018. During this meeting, Ķirsis commented on the situation with connection of heating services in Riga.

In his speech, Ķirsis announced that the situation is considered an example for how much Riga’s residents suffer from the corruption caused by Harmony’s policy. «More than 20 000 Riga residents experienced autumn not only outside but also inside their homes when the heating season began. This happened because of corruption of one particular party. And if someone asks what the face of corruption is like, they I can say we see two faces of corruption at every meeting of Riga City Council. While they are enjoying nice tans on board a yacht in Monaco, Riga’s residents are forced to freeze. Every time they receive news about freezing residents they add another ice cube to their cocktails and continue enjoying life,» said Ķirsis.


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