RIGA - Two high-school-aged youths who participated in a hate crime last December were found guilty by the Riga Central District Court on May 29. One of the defendants was given jail time, marking the second case in which a defendant has been incarcerated for a racially motivated crime.
The two 18-year-old men were officially charged with "hooliganism in a group or resulting in bodily injuries to the victim or damage of property," a charge that can potentially carry up to a seven-year sentence.
The attack occurred on Dec. 10, 2006, when Latvian television journalist Janis Geste and his female friend from Brazil were walking from the Riga main train station toward Old Town in the underground pedestrian walkways.
As they were about to leave the underpass, they were accosted by a group of skinheads who tried to pull them back into the underpass to "have a talk." One of the attackers shouted insults at the Brazilian girl, advising her to leave "our country" and hurled a full beer bottle at her and her friend, narrowly missing them both.
The youths were detained later as they were buying alcohol.
One of the defendants received a three-year sentence with a two-year probation period, while the other was given a two-year suspended sentence with a one-year probationary period.
The Security Police had initially asked the prosecutor's office to prosecute the attackers for ethnic or racist assaults and breach of human rights and to charge them with carrying out the crimes in a group, an offense punishable by a sentence as long as 10 years.
This verdict marks only the second time that a jail term has been handed out for a presumably racist attack.
The first was in January of this year, when the Riga Regional Court handed eight and six-month sentences to two men convicted of beating up a member of Latvia's AfroLat organization.
Christopher Ejubo, chairman of the AfroLat organization, said that the latest verdict was helped by the first, and the message that hate-based crimes are punishable may slowly be getting across to society.
"Now it looks like the first one has set a precedent to make it easier to deal with such cases. We hope that law enforcement agencies are going to realize that hate crimes should be punished, that we won't have to urge them but that they will take the initiative themselves," he said.
Ejubo explained that the slow shift in thinking by law enforcement agencies is more important than any individual verdict. "We still think that some of these sentences are lightâ€¦ but let's hope that this will start to send the message. We don't want to put people in jail 's the main goal for us is a reduction in the number of hate crimes that are committed," he said.