Reporters Without Borders today expressed “outrage” at yesterday’s invasion by Latvia’s KNAB anti-corruption police of the offices of the daily paper Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze (Independent Morning Press) and its parent firm SIA Mediju Nams and their theft (by copying) of all the data on its computers (including e-mails) and their refusal to allow any photographing or filming of the incident
It was a “serious attack on the privacy of sources and data” and it called on authorities to explain themselves urgently and tell the publishers of the charges against them. The stolen data must also be returned in its original state, it added, warning police not to repeat such an operation at other media outlets.
The KNAB acted as part of an anti-corruption drive targeting 40 or so firms suspected of corruption. Today’s action was ordered by a judge, Rinalds Silakalns, because some of the investigated companies (including the national airline, airBaltic, and the Riga Freeport Authority) advertised regularly in the paper.
“These searches and violations are completely unjustified,” the worldwide media freedom organisation said. “The judge’s reasoning was ridiculous and incomprehensible. This would mean all the country’s publications (even foreign ones) would have to be searched in this way. Copying the hard-drives and content of the paper’s e-mail server is completely out of proportion.”
“What has happened takes us back to the darkest days of the outdated Soviet regime. Latvia is a member of the European Union and thus obliged to respect media freedom. Media searches are only to be done under exceptional and very strict conditions and the situation does not warrant this kind of disgraceful action at all,” it said.
The KNAB appears to have found an excuse to silence those who have criticised its considerable disorganisation and inefficiency, the NRA newspaper being one if its frequent critics. The KNAB Bureau is also plagued by an internal power struggle, with two officers convicted and jailed for embezzlement and its previous director sacked by parliament.
Uldis Dreiblats, award-winning journalist and co-owner of the publishing house, told Reporters Without Borders that the paper had the day before reported that an extensive investigation of the KNAB was under way, but had not imagined that in response the paper would be targeted itself.