Defamation remains a criminal offence in Latvia (punishable with imprisonment).
Defamation is a criminal act under Art. 157 of the Latvian Criminal Code. Defamation is defined as “knowingly commit[ting] intentional distribution of fictions, knowing them to be untrue and defamatory of another person, in printed or otherwise reproduced material, as well as orally, if such has been committed publicly”.
Criminal defamation is normally punished with fines or community service. However, if defamation is committed by means of the mass media, the is increased and may include temporary deprivation of liberty (imprisonment), community service, or a fine (Art. 157, par. 2).
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Provisions on the books.
Art. 93 of the Latvian Criminal Code prohibits the pulling down, tearing, breaking or destroying the Latvian Coat of Arms or the national flag of Latvia, or other (zaimošana) thereof. Public desecration (zaimošana) of the national anthem of Latvia is likewise prohibited. The punishment in such cases is imprisonment for up to three years, , community service or a fine.
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
Provisions on the books (religious feeling).
Violating the religious feelings of a person or inciting hatred toward a person in connection with his or her attitude toward religion is a criminal offence under Art. 150, par. 1 of the Latvian Criminal Code. The punishment is , community service, or a fine.
Following a 2010 amendment to Latvia’s Law on Criminal Procedure, criminal defamation is now prosecuted in the same manner as any other criminal violation, i.e. by a public prosecutor. Latvian experts consulted by IPI have suggested that there are now fewer cases of criminal defamation before the courts. This is apparently due to a high dismissal rate given the difficulty of proving that person “knowingly committed intentional distribution of fictions”.
Statistics on Application
The following data were provided upon request to the International Press Institute by the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.
The data below relate to the year 2014.
- For Art. 157, par. 1 (defamation), there were 0 convictions.
- For Art. 157, par. 2 (defamation committed by the mass media), there were 0 convictions.
- For Art. 150, par. 1 (violating religious feelings or inciting hatred on account of attitude toward religion), there were 0 convictions.
Full data for the years 2011 to 2014 can be downloaded here (JPEG, English). Notably, Latvian authorities registered only a single alleged instance of criminal defamation in this time period and not a single conviction.
Latvia does not have a specific civil law on defamation. Art. 95 of the Constitution of Latvia prescribes that the state will protect human honour and dignity. Also, Art. 116 of the Constitution prescribes that the right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 100, can be restricted in order to protect the rights of other people.
Art. 2352 of Chapter II provides: “If a person unlawfully deprives another person of his or her personal freedom, the first-mentioned person shall restore the other person’s freedom and provide, in accordance with the discretion of a court, full compensation also for moral injury.”
Also, according to Art. 2352, every person has the right to bring court action for the retraction of information that injures his or her reputation and dignity, in a case in which the person who disseminated the information did not prove that such information is true. If the information was published in the press, it shall also be retracted in the press. If it is in a document, such document shall be replaced. Further, if someone unlawfully injures a person’s reputation and dignity orally, in writing or by acts, he or she shall provide compensation (financial compensation). A court shall determine the amount of the compensation.
It is also worth noting that sub-Chapter 4 of the Civil Code, Art. 428 provides for possible exclusion from inheritance where the descendant has “committed a criminal offence against (…) the honour of the testator, his or her spouse, or his or her ascendant”.
There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation in Latvian law.
Under Art. 2352 of the Civil Code, a person can only bring a court action for the retraction of defamatory information that is false. The burden of proof to prove the truthfulness of the information lies with the person who disseminated the information.
In accordance with Art. 29 of the Law On the Press and Other Mass Media, the mass media shall not be held liable for the dissemination of false information if such information is based on:
• official documents of the State authorities and administrative bodies, announcements by political and public organisations
• announcements by official information agencies; or
• publications by officials.
Media Cases and Case Law
Key principles of case law
In 2004, the Latvian Supreme Court issued a summary of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and Latvian court praxis related to the civil protection of honour and dignity. It includes principles established by the ECtHR that should be applied when dealing with defamation cases.
In practice, Latvian courts usually refer to this document and to the principles of the ECtHR. According to Latvian experts, in the last several years that have not been major disagreements between ECtHR principles and those applied by the Latvia courts vis-à-vis defamation. For example, Latvian courts try to separate separate factual claims from value judgments, take into account the status of media as a public “watchdog”, and respect the notion that the limits of acceptable criticism are wider in the cases of public figures than those of private individuals. Latvian courts also try to verify whether value judgements have a sufficient factual basis.
Nevertheless, Latvian courts occasionally face problems with correctly interpreting and applying ECtHR principles. For example, disputed statements are not always evaluated taking into consideration the context of the statement or publication as well as all the circumstances of the case. Also, problems arise when separating factual claims from value judgments as occasionally only the grammatical interpretation of the statement or particular word is taken into account.
Finally, in most cases Latvian courts would not respect the principle that even if defamatory information turns out to be false, the journalist/media will not be punished unless it did not sufficiently perform their journalistic duty to check the facts (i.e. defence of good faith). This is due to the fact that the Law on the Press and Other Mass Media strictly defines in Art. 29 the situations in which mass media shall not be held liable for the dissemination of false information and such situations are considered exhaustive.
Recent examples of cases involving the media
In 2009, then newly elected MEP Aleksandrs Mirskis filed a criminal libel complaint against Latvian journalist Gunta Sloga over a report in which Sloga appeared to question claims regarding Mirskis’s biography. Likening him to the German nobleman Baron Münchhausen, whose name has become synonymous with the relating of tall tales, Sloga cast doubt in particular on Mirskis’s reported military accomplishments. The Jumalas City Court acquitted Sloga in 2011 after a lengthy trial. Mirskis appealed to the Riga Court of Appeals, which confirmed the lower court’s ruling in 2013.
Recent Legal Changes
Latvia in recent years has taken steps toward the repeal of criminal defamation laws:
- In 2009, Arts. 156 (intentional defamation) and 158 (defamation through the mass media) of the Latvian Criminal Code were repealed.
- In 2003, the Latvian Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Art. 271 of the Criminal Code, which prohibited defamation of state officials.
In addition, the Law on Criminal Procedure was amended in 2010 such that criminal defamation is now prosecuted in the same manner as any other criminal violation, i.e. by a public prosecutor.
Legal Sources and Acknowledgements
Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)
The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at ipi[at]freemedia.at.
Information on Latvia was last updated in January 2015.