National Bolsheviks get stiff sentences

  • 2001-05-03
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - Uproar broke out in a Riga court room on April 30 as judgment was passed on members of the National Bolshevik movement, who, wielding a fake hand grenade, seized the tower of St. Peter's church, in Riga, last November.

Three members of the group, which campaigns against NATO expansion and glorifies the Soviet past, were found guilty of terrorism at the Riga Regional Court.

Maxim Zurkin and Sergei Solovey were each sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment and Dmitry Gafarov, who is under 18, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. All three are from Russia. Vladimir Moskovtsev, a Latvian resident, was found guilty of aiding the three, who entered Latvia illegally on a train bound for Kaliningrad. He was given a one-year suspended sentence and two years' probation.

Judge Janis Laukroze and the other two presiding judges were taunted with shouts of "Fascists!" as they left the court. The defendants - mere "children," according to several in the crowd - were pelted with flowers as they left. One of them raised his fist in a defiant salute and also shouted "Fascists!"

Laukroze had described their crimes as "very grave."

Outside the court Gijs Rusins, the lawyer who defended Zurkin and Solovey said they would appeal what he called the "severe" verdict. "This wasn't real terrorism. A sentence of two to four years would have been enough. They were drawing attention to certain processes in Latvia. Maybe in a quite violent way, but it wasn't terrorism as such."

Surrounded by reporters and TV cameras Vladimir Linderman, leader of the National Bolsheviks in Latvia described the verdict as "barbaric."

"Greenpeace activists receive 15 days for similar crimes," he said. He added that he did not rule out the possibility of Latvian nationals living abroad being taken hostage.

Janis Jurkans MP, leader of the For Human Rights in a United Latvia parliamentary faction, which represents Latvia's national minorities, said the trial had been tainted by political considerations. "People who kill while driving drunk get off scot-free in this country. This shouldn't have been classed as terrorism. Show me another case where someone has got 15 years for what was a very rude act of hooliganism. So far, thank God, Latvia has been spared real terrorism."

Lawyers believe the Russian members of the movement are unlikely to serve their sentences in Latvia, but would be extradited to Russia.