Crime of racism goes unpunished

  • 2005-06-15
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - It was an early summer evening, no later than 8 p.m., when Christopher Ejugbo, a Nigerian who has spent more than 10 years living in Latvia, found himself running through the streets of Riga's Old Town, chased by skinheads.

The would-be assailants, dressed in military fatigues, had spotted the Nigerian as he was walking through Dome Square and threatened him verbally in Russian. Ejugbo kept walking until he saw that he was being aggressively pursued, and then he began running for safety 's first into a restaurant where he found no help, and then into a local bar, where the police were called and the pursuers detained.

The skinheads were later released and no charges were filed, despite openly acknowledging that they intended to harm dark-skinned people in Riga.

"[They weren't arrested] despite the fact that the two openly admitted belonging to this organization and said they could have done me a lot of harm if they had succeeded in following me to a darker place," Ejugbo said in a letter that circulated shortly after the incident. He questioned if it would take someone's violent death to bring political leaders' and law enforcement officials' serious attention to the issue.

In a television interview on the show "The 100th Paragraph," Dainis Turlajs, state secretary for the Interior Ministry said, "There wasn't force, not a fight, this young man was not physically harmed. That has to be shown in court, not on the streets. It can be solved then, when there is a legal foundation, when there is a basis of evidence."

This incident is the latest of three in recent weeks involving the intimidation or outright assault of colored people. Many members of the local Afro-Lat community have reported harassment and intimidation. Ejugbo said an increase has occurred lately, while others have said they no longer feel safe in Old Town.

Those who were attacked and turned to the police have seen charges dropped from racism to hooliganism, as happened to an Indian chef who was assaulted by skinheads in the Old Town outside of Centers shopping mall. Rabbi Glazman said he was also intimidated in the Old Town 's the same place, in fact, where the Indian was attacked. At the time, police said they would watch the group more closely.

Yet some attention has been gained. The incident with Ejugbo was followed by two editorials in Diena, a story in the Latvian news agency Leta and some television coverage. While the number of news stories was still quite small, it was a large increase when compared with the Indian chef's incident.

Yet the problem of skinheads trolling Riga's Old Town persists, and law enforcement seem to be beside themselves on how to deal with it. Latvian prosecutors will be investigating past action by local police to see whether they violated the law by releasing the skinheads.

The Latvian Human Rights and Ethnic Studies Centre has offered legal aid to Ejugbo, should things not be pursued by law enforcement.

Ilze Brands Kehris, center director, said part of the problem is due to a lack of legislation against racist attacks and intimidation.

"All the police have to work with is the section on incitement of racial hatred," she said, which can be difficult to prove.

For law enforcement and society to take the issue more seriously, it will take those that have been assaulted to report the incidents.

Ejugbo said he had been physically attacked in Old Town before, but said nothing of it at the time.

When asked about the lowering of criminal charges against the Indian chef's assailants, Turlajs replied: "The most important thing is that we have a foundation of evidence so that we can call for criminal responsibility for racism and the incitement of racial hatred."

Meanwhile, Integration Minister Ainars Latkovskis condemned the incident in a press release, saying that "intolerance, racism, and anti-Semitism" have no place in society.