We provided pro bono legal assistance for the journalist Inga Spriņģe, who suffered from prolonged and repeated harassment by Jānis Sondars, including intimidation, threats and unwanted communication.
On 30 March this year the Senate refused to initiate cassation proceedings following the entry into force of the Regional Court’s decision. As a result, Jānis Sondars was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment for the harassment of Inga Spriņģe, a journalist at the Center for Investigative Journalism Re:Baltica.
The road to restarting the proceedings
Criminal proceedings related to the activities of J. Sondars were initiated in 2019, but they were terminated shortly afterwards and were not renewed even after an appeal, because the police did not establish intention on his part to intimidate and make direct threats. Unfortunately, the unwanted activities continued, due to which the police had to be contacted again. When the proceedings were renewed, the prosecutor moved the case smoothly to trial, upheld the prosecution and within a period of just over a year the case had been heard in all three courts.
When does expressing an opinion become harassment?
Sondars was aware that I. Spriņģe does not want to contact him. Despite the above, unwanted communication with the journalist was maintained for a period of almost two years. As the court pointed out, this communication was carried out grossly ignoring and violating the generally accepted moral norms in society about what constitutes respectful communication among persons who do not know each other, including on issues on which there are sharp differences of opinion. In addition, it is important to evaluate all the actions taken as a whole and in relation to each other, because all the actions only achieved the desired effect – fear on the part of the victim – as a whole. As a result, the court concluded that the victim had objective grounds to perceive the threats and actions as endangering her safety.
Protection of journalists
For several years now, attacks on journalists and editors of various publications in Europe have started in a similar way, with seemingly innocent but intrusive attempts at communication, negative comments and harassment. Only as a result of the perseverance of the victim to protect their violated rights, by repeatedly calling the law enforcement authorities for help, has the court judgement that entered into force in this case confirmed that long-term unwanted harassment of another person is not acceptable in Latvian society and is punished accordingly.
You can read the progress of the case here.
Pro bono legal assistance to the victim was provided by partner Andris Tauriņš. Valuable contributions were also made by counsel Dr. iur. Violeta Zeppa-Priedīte, senior associates Katrīna Salmgrieze and Agita Sprūde, as well as associate Krista Niklase.