Press freedom watchdog alarmed by search of reporter’s home

A Vienna-based press freedom watchdog group says it is alarmed by the recent police raid on a Latvian journalist’s apartment in Rīga.

The home of Latvian State Television reporter Ilze Nagla was searched May 11 as police looked for evidence regarding the hacker “Neo,” who in recent months had revealed embarrassing information taken from the National Revenue Service’s computer system. Nagla had broken the story of the hacker, who since has been arrested and identified as Ilmārs Poikāns, a researcher affiliated with the University of Latvia’s Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science.

Police confiscated Nagla’s computer and storage media, according to news reports.

In a statement published May 18, the International Press Institute said it is “alarmed by the apparent disregard for source protection laws and press freedom demonstrated by the Latvian police in their investigation into the leak.”

According to reports, Poikāns had contacted Nagla with information about what he had found thanks to a security gap on the revenue service’s server. Using the name Neo and claiming to represent the People’s Army of the Fourth Awakening (4. Atmodas tautas armija), Poikāns also provided links to the data through a Twitter account.

His identity, however, did not become public until after the search of Nagla’s apartment.

“It is vital that investigative journalists seeking to provide the public with information be allowed to keep their sources confidential,” IPI Director David Dadge said in a statement published on the group’s website. “The search of Ilze Nagla’s house appears to be in blatant contradiction not only with the Latvian Press Act, but with the universal principle of a free media.”

A spokesperson for the Latvian Ministry of Interior said May 13 that the raid was not meant to uncover the journalist’s source, because police already knew the identity of Neo. Rather, the search of Nagla’s apartment was meant to uncover information regarding illegally obtained data about taxpayers.

Latvia typically ranks high on ratings of press freedom, but the search of Nagla’s apartment is at least the third incident this year that has raised concerns of watchdog groups. In January, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders condemned the ransacking by unknown intruders of the offices of Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze. The organization in April was “stunned” to learn of the apparent contract killing of Grigorijs Ņemcovs, publisher of the newspaper Million in Daugavpils.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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