Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns yesterday’s arrest of Leonīds Jākobsons, a news website owner and editor who for the past month has been posting copies of a series of compromising emails that had been sent or received by Nils Ušakovs, mayor of Riga and a former member of the Latvian parliament. The organisation demands his immediate release.
The emails that Jākobsons began posting on his website Kompromat (www.kompromat.lv) on 17 November indicated that Ušakovs provided information to a member of the Russian embassy in Riga and engaged in a strange correspondence that has aroused suspicions about the nature of Ušakovs’ activities.
The winner of the National Journalism Prize in 2009 in the “Defence of Media Freedom” category, Jākobsons is reportedly also in the possession of other – so far unpublished – emails suggesting that illegal commissions were used to finance a political party’s election campaign illegally.
“We demand Jākobsons’ immediate release,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is unacceptable that a journalist can be jailed for an alleged media offence in a European Union member country. “The confidentiality of journalists’ sources is being seriously threatened by the seizure of all of his computer equipment and by the pressure being put on him to reveal how he obtained the emails.
“The mayor of Riga can bring a legal action against Jākobsons if he thinks it is necessary, or he can take advantage of the right of reply if he thinks he has been defamed. But Jākobsons’ arrest and imprisonment and the confiscation of all of his equipment seem more like an act of revenge than the actions of an impartial judicial system.”
During a raid on Jākobsons’ apartment yesterday, police seized two computers and all the computer storage material and devices they could find. After completing their search, they arrested Jākobsons on suspicion of illegally acquiring electronic communication data. The police also went to the premises of an Internet Service provider and seized the three servers that hosted the Kompromat website, which can no longer be accessed.
The day after Jākobsons posted the first emails on Kompromat, the site began being the target of a major DDoS attack that lasted several days. On 21 November, a hacker succeeded in deleting all of the site’s archives (more than 10 years of content in Russian and Latvian). The site’s editors were able to restore all the content from a backup but the attacks continued.
The police had refused to accede to a request by Jakobsons for an investigation into the origin of the cyber-attacks on his site.
A well-known and widely-read site, Kompromat has done a lot of investigative coverage of corruption, organized crime, drug trafficking and other criminal activity. It has often been pressured and prosecuted, but none of its personnel had ever been attacked or arrested in the past.
Currently held at Čiekurkalns police station in Riga, Jākobsons is expected to be transferred to the city’s main prison shortly. Conditions in the jail are poor and Reporters Without Borders has been told he will probably have to share a cell with ordinary offenders.