RIGA - The European Court of Human Rights ruled against the state of Latvia on May 27 on a claim by the Environment Protection Club that its right to freedom of speech had been restricted. In line with the court ruling, Latvia will have to pay environmentalists 3,000 euros in moral damages and 1,000 euros to cover litigation costs.
The Environment Protection Club claimed its rights were restricted when a Latvian court had ruled that it should pay compensation to the head of a local authority whom the club accused of carrying out negligent and illegal construction works in a dune zone on the Baltic Sea. The club demanded that an audit be conducted in Mersrags county in Western Latvia, that illegal decisions be cancelled and that the psychological fitness of the county council's chairwoman and her secretary be evaluated.
As a result of the statement, which was adopted as a resolution at the club's meeting, the chairwoman sued the club for libel and distributing false information. In addition to demanding that the information be retracted, she demanded compensation worth 500 lats (750 euros).
The Latvian court met her claim in all instances.
However, Inga Reine, the government's international institution representative, said that the European Court of Human Rights found the interference in this case as disproportional.
Reine explained that the government would consider whether to appeal the ruling after she reported the court's judgment in late June, emphasizing that the court practice in these cases "was not uniform," and that the judgment would "set a guideline by which judges will have to follow while hearing libel cases."
"The judgment sets out several principles by which the court must guide while hearing such cases. These are great guidelines for Latvia's courts because libel cases are still new in the court practice and have not been studied a lot," she added.
Environmental Protection Club Vice President Janis Matulis, learning of the court's judgment from the Baltic News Service, said he was happy.
"At last democracy has won," he said. "This is not so much about the money. The judgment means that norms of democracy are respected in Europe, and hopefully soon it will be like this in Latvia as well."
The Environmental Protect-ion Club originally wanted to exact 6,000 lats from the Latvian state.