The British journalist is arrested in Riga, human rights and freedom of speech violated one more time
On 16 March, the British journalist Graham Phillips was arrested during a march of Latvian veterans of Waffen-SS. Phillips, who is known for his coverage of Donbass and Crimea events, recently arrived to Latvia to make a story. The journalist, regarded as pro-Kremlin in the Baltics, expected he might not be let into the country, while Russophobes from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia showered the Brit with threats on the net.
Phillips has repeatedly claimed he stands for unbiased journalism. He emphasized his Baltic project was 100% independent and crowdfunded from all around the world, resulting in an “unbiased” story.
Graham Phillips started his visit covering the march of SS veterans and their supporters, annually held in Riga on 16 March. The event, clamoured by any sane government, is tolerated by Brussels and local authorities. This time, above a thousand people participated. Phillips, wearing an orange press vest, was streaming live in Periscope, interviewing processionists who en masse refused to talk. The journalist was, to the crowd’s applause, eventually arrested by the police who didn’t explain the grounds for the arrest, saying he was provoking the participants.
RP couldn’t reach Phillips for comment: he was in a police station, unable to receive phone calls. One of witnesses of the arrest, a person who knows Phillips and wished to stay anonymous, told RP the journalist was simply doing his job, while some participants were acting aggressively. The police, too, recoursed to force.
“The march was going on as usual. About a thousand people showed up; there are few veterans among them, the rest is their younger supporters. Participants were extremely hostile to Graham. Of course, they didn’t like him asking why they were here and whether they felt guilty about it. But you couldn’t tell Graham was provoking them, maybe just acting more bravely than scared local journalists,” the witness said, adding that nobody else, including the press and the participants, was arrested. As he noted, the Latvian police release UK citizens rather quickly, but, as he said, Latvian authorities might think Phillips is the “wrong type of a UK citizen”.
Democracy a la Baltic
Facebook users are outraged by his arrest and express their support. Typical comments are “EU democracy at its finest!” and “Latvia shows European values”.
The suspense about Phillips’s future is whether he’ll be let to work in Latvia, with the arrest being merely an “instructional measure”, or he’ll be deported and made to stop working on his project about the Baltic countries.
His deportation would be another scandal concerning the explusion of Russian journalists, public figures and political analysts from the Baltics and the EU under the requisition of the Baltic states. The only difference is Phillips is a UK citizen, which is maybe the only factor keeping Riga from another act of definitive lawlessness. However, there are known cases of deporting EU citizens from Latvia.
Former RT stringer Graham Phillips (right) shooting the march of Latvian Waffen-SS veterans in Riga © Oksana Dzhadan/RIA Novosti
The human rights activist Illarion Girs, who is one of the leaders of the party “For Native Tongue”, marked that Phillips was expressing natural interest of a journalist when asked the participants what they thought about the march as a sign Nazism revival. That’s why, this legally means lawlessness. However, according to Girs, the journalist may be deported.
“Arrested, Phillips was wondering if he was in Latvia of 2016. Speaking and revealing the truth is regarded here as something like extremism; Latvia of 2016 is very much like Orwell’s ‘1984’ or ‘Animal Farm’. His arrest is lawless from the legal point of view, it’s against the law, but it’s hardly possible to recognize it in Latvian courts. Chances are he soon will be deported from Latvia as a persona non grata; his UK citizenship will barely help. At least, German citizenship doesn’t help antifascists here. Yesterday, even Association of Victims of the Nazi Regime co-chair Cornelia Kerth, professor of Hamburg university, along with five “wrong” Germans, was not allowed to enter Latvia,” Illarion Girs says. As the activist underlined, human rights in Latvia are merely nominal, especially rights of those who agree with Russia’s policy.
“Besides, he’s punished because he knows Maxim Koptelov, who was sentenced for his political satire saying it’s time for Latvia to become a part of Russia. The video of Phillips’s arrest shows policemen taking him by the arm and asking ‘Why are you walking all the time with Mr. Koptelov? Why are you walking with Koptelov?’ In the event this case is brought to international courts, this may prove it is politically motivated,” Girs added.
Illarion Girs has good ground not to trust the Latvian police, so he reached the UK embassy and informed a UK citizen is arrested and needs diplomatic protection.
“For Native Tongue” party chair Vladimir Linderman has been persecuted for his views and he believes Phillips’s arrest will help cover the legal situation in the Baltic states and catch international attention to the neo-Nazi celebration in Riga.
“It was utterly obvious that the police were hunting for him and turned the procession into the quest of catching him. Everything is possible, but I doubt that that case will be criminal, maybe only administrative. Phillips is likely to be released soon or maybe deported at once. It’s quite absurd when a EU citizen is forbidden to enter another EU country, but the decision is quite probable. Today’s Latvia is in hysteria of the hybrid war, so the arrest may attract proper media attention,” Linderman says.
The journalist Graham Phillips has genuine interest in Russia and Russians. The problem of the Russian world is as much acute in the Baltics, as it is in war-struck Donbass. At the same time, the lack of unbiased and professional coverage of the situation in the Baltic states by Western media is felt. There is, and there may be, none. If UK citizenship doesn’t save Phillips from being deported, there is a feeble hope that such wrongdoing towards a British subject will catch international attention to numerous violations of freedom of speech and human rights in the region.
Graham Phillips spent about 4 hours in a police station and was released. Whether any measure will be applied to him is still unknown.
Watch the march and Phillips’s arrest