Defamation remains a criminal offence in Latvia.
Defamation (Criminal Code Art. 157) : 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 punishment is increased and may include temporary deprivation of liberty, community service, or a fine (Art. 157(2)).
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
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 desecration (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, temporary detention , community service or a fine.
Criminal Defamation of Foreign Heads of State
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
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(1) (defamation), there were zero convictions.
• For Art. 157(2) (defamation committed by the mass media), there were zero convictions.
• For Art. 150(1) (violating religious feelings or inciting hatred on account of attitude toward religion), there were zero convictions.
Full data for the years 2011 to 2014 can be downloaded through the legal database of the International Press Institute . Notably, Latvian authorities registered only a single alleged instance of criminal defamation in this time period and not a single conviction.
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”.
Criminal Defamation and 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 Jurmala 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.
In 2014, Art. 150 of the Criminal Code was amended. Previously, Art. 150(1) punished “violating the religious feelings of a person or inciting hatred toward a person in connection with his or her attitude toward religion” with temporary deprivation of liberty, community service or a fine. This provision was repealed and replaced with a provision on “Incitement of Social Hatred and Enmity”, which provides criminal liability for committing “an act oriented towards inciting hatred or enmity depending on the gender, age, disability of a person or any other characteristics, if substantial harm has been caused thereby”.
Notes and Acknowledgements
Information for Latvia was originally collected by IPI as part of the “Out of Balance” report, published in January 2015 with support from the European Commission and incorporating research contributed by Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and by the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. This entry was later expanded and updated by IPI as part of a study commissioned by the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
A fully footnoted version of this entry is available in the OSCE study. This entry was last updated in March 2017.
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 info(at)ipi.media.