RIGA - Embattled Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs has announced that he would go on a hunger strike to protest alleged violations of his constitutional rights since his ordeal with Latvia's law enforcement agencies began last March.
Lembergs, who was once the driving force behind the Greens and Farmers Union, lodged a request on Jan. 14 with Ventspils Police Chief Didzis Vilemsons to have a doctor supervise the strike.
The mayor, who has been complaining of poor health, said he would begin the strike on Jan. 17.
Lembergs has been under house arrest in his Puze home since June 10. He was relieved of his duties as mayor 's though not technically removed from office 's on Aug. 22.
He is suspected of large-scale bribery, tax evasion and fraud, and his domestic assets have been placed under arrest. Recently Latvian media reported that Lembergs' foreign assets, including those under his children's names, have been put under arrest.
Lembergs claimed that the Prosecutor General's Office and police have deliberately kept him misinformed about exactly what restrictions have been imposed on him. He said that the detaining officers can at any time deny him medical assistance, food or access to his attorney.
In his application, Lembergs said the restrictions violate Article 10 of the constitution, which states that "everyone has the right to know about his or her rights."
"The arbitrariness of the Prosecutor's General Office may only be complained about at the Prosecutor's General Office, which does not punish its own people. Thus, to protect his rights as guaranteed by Latvian Constitution, Lembergs is announcing his hunger strike," reads the document, drafted by his lawyer.
Lembergs said he formally requested that the police clarify his detention status four times 's on July 20, July 24, Aug. 1 and Aug. 3. He claims that he never received a formal reply, only vague explanations that he needs to ask the court to clarify the exact restrictions that have been imposed on him.
Interior Minister Mareks Seglins told journalists on Jan. 15 that he sees no grounds for the hunger strike, and he could not take any action without receiving an official complaint about the police officers.
"I do not see grounds for these complaints if there is no direct information about particular violations of a policeman," the minister said.
"The police, of course, have nothing to do with it. The police have to follow the court's ruling. [I can't take action] unless there are complaints about particular activities of policemen. But then I have to see a particular complaint on particular offenses committed by the police," he said.
Lembergs was originally detained on March 14 in connection with an investigation into corruption and fraud among Ventspils officials and businessmen.
He has been charged with fraud, extortion, money laundering and providing false income declarations.
He has repeatedly been denied requests to be allowed more freedom during the course of the investigation. He maintains his innocence, claiming that the charges are politically motivated.