For educational purposes only, from Deutsche Presse-Agentur—
“Latvian Court Jails Race Attackers in Unprecedented Decision”
A Latvian court jailed on Tuesday two youths found guilty of a racially-motivated attack on an African man - the first time racist violence has been punished with a jail term in Latvia.
At the same time, the court recommended that a special award be given to a trainee policeman who intervened in the attack and subsequently chased the attackers down.
“This is a huge deal for us - a big step, not only for people of colour in Latvia, but for the entire judicial system,” George Steele, an African-American living in Latvia, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
The attack occurred last June in central Riga. Two young men, Roman Vilums and Andris Ziedins, began shouting racist insults at Rwandan citizen Pierre Dusabiman, before hitting him with a bottle.
The attack was seen by trainee policeman Denis Grigoriyev, who intervened. When the attackers fled, he and Dusabiman pursued them in a taxi and detained them until the police arrived.
Police initially refused to treat the incident as racist, citing it as a hooliganism offence. However, the decision was criticised by human rights observers and Afrolat, an NGO representing Africans in Latvia, and police subsequently charged the two youths with racism.
Vilums has now been sentenced to eight months in prison, and Ziedins to six months. The verdict has been welcomed by Afrolat members, who say it is an important precedent.
“Both attackers are in their twenties - they should have known better…With this verdict, I hope that people will think twice before committing hate crimes,” Afrolat vice-chairman Steele said.
And Grigoriyev’s action has been widely praised, with the court passing a special motion in his honour. The motion is to be sent to the Interior Ministry as the first step to a possible award, the Leta news wire wrote.
The immigration of people of different skin colours is seen as a new phenomenon in Latvia, which was largely isolated from the outside world during the Soviet occupation of 1940-91.
Immigrants of African origin report being regularly subjected to verbal abuse. Several high-profile physical assaults in the last two years - including one on a US Embassy worker - have sparked a public debate on issues of racism and tolerance.
According to a recent Eurobarometer poll, however, only 29 per cent of Latvians believe that ethnic discrimination is widespread in their country, compared with an EU average of 64 per cent. This reveals a lack of awareness of the problem, experts say.
According to Afrolat, there are some 100 people of African descent living in Latvia - a country of 2.3 million.
© 2007 DPA
Askolds Rodins comments in Diena (in Latvian)—