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Birthday Request: Free Sputnik Editor Marat Kasem

© Sputnik / Vladimir TrefilovMarat Kasem
Marat Kasem - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.03.2023
Sputnik Lithuania editor and Sputnik Radio host Marat Kasem, who has been detained in Latvia for more than two months on charges of violating European Union economic sanctions, turns 33 on March 14.
A large-scale campaign has been launched today among journalists who will go live on TV channels, radio programs and profile streams with words of support for Sputnik Lithuania editor and Sputnik Radio host Marat Kasem.
The detention of the journalist has received a wide response due to the questionable legality of the arrest, which is yet another example of a gross violation of the rights of journalists working for Russian outlets in Europe.
Each of these reasons alone should be enough to end Kasem's case immediately.

Who is Marat Kasem?

Marat Kasem is a Latvian citizen who works as editor of the Sputnik Lithuania news agency, a branch of the Rossiya Segodnya media group that covers life in the Baltic country.
Marat also co-hosts a show on Radio Sputnik, where he previously appeared with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
The Baltic authorities repeatedly persecuted Kasem during his work at Rossiya Segodnya.

Unlawful Arrest: ‘Political’ Article, Pressure & Torture

Late last year, the journalist returned to Latvia for family reasons - his grandmother was dying of cancer.
On January 3, the Latvian State Security Service detained him. Two days later, a local court arrested Marat and sent him to Riga Central Prison, where he remains to this day.
Kasem is accused of violating article 84 paragraph 1 of the Latvian Criminal Code for violating EU sanctions. He faces up to four years in prison.
The real reasons for the arrest do not leave much doubt, since 84(1) is a classic article for Russian media representatives persecuted by the Baltic security forces. Earlier, Marat's colleagues in the media group were accused of violating this article.
Commenting on Kasem's arrest, Rossiya Segodnya Director General Dmitry Kiselev said, “This is clear revenge by the Baltic regimes for his work for the Russian media. Marat felt political persecution and often spoke about it.”
Dmitry Kiselev, the director general of the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.01.2023
Sputnik Editor Kasem Detained in Latvia Felt Politically Persecuted: Rossiya Segodnya Head
The editor of Sputnik Lithuania was previously detained by Lithuanian security services during his trip in 2019.
According to the journalist, local security forces then threatened him and tried to induce him to cooperate.
"You are a citizen of Latvia. Why are you working for them? Let's have a heart-to-heart talk. You understand who they are, don't you? They are not real people. They are a strange country. You could get a good job here, work for our local media," Kasem said of conversations during his previous arrest.
After he refused, Kasem was expelled from Lithuanian territory under the pretext of being a “threat to national security.”
The circumstances of the current arrest and detention of the editor of Sputnik Lithuania also testify to its unlawful nature and deliberate pressure on the journalist.
First of all, article 84 of the Latvian Criminal Code itself is so broad that some of its provisions could be interpreted as an outright ban on working for a Russian media outlet that is subject to EU sanctions.
Protest against arrest of Marat Kasem in front of Latvian embassy in Moscow - Sputnik International, 1920, 24.01.2023
Arrested Sputnik Lithuania Editor Kasem Thanks Colleagues for Support
As Lithuanian lawyer Stanislovas Tomas noted: "From the Latvian prosecutor's point of view, it is a violation of the law for a person to work in a sub-sanctioned institution".
“That is, the crime – the violation of sanctions – is the very work in such an institution,” Tomas emphasized.
The scope of article 84 and its application to a journalist directly raises questions about the violation by the Baltic security forces of their own citizens' freedom of speech, which is protected by both the European Convention on Human Rights (article 10) and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (article 11).

In addition, detainees under article 84(1) are often given a measure of restraint in the form of recognizance not to leave the country. But in this case, the court is deliberately keeping Kasem in custody after rejecting all defense arguments last week that his detention was excessive.

The prison guards also do not allow Marat to communicate with his lawyer in a timely manner, openly sabotaging his right to defense.

Finally, the terrible conditions of the journalist's detention could be considered torture, which is prohibited by the European Convention to which Latvia is a party.

On January 30, Kasem was transferred to a cold solitary cell with insects and other unsanitary conditions. Against this backdrop, the journalist's allergies and other chronic illnesses worsened - his toes began to fail.
The prison administration ignored his repeated requests for medical attention for a week.
Sergey Belyaev, director of Russia's Foreign Ministry's Second European Department, noted the inhumane conditions in which Kasem was being held.
"This already falls into the category of, excuse me, torture, when a person is deliberately subjected to physical suffering," Belyaev stressed in an interview with RTVI.
According to Kasem's attorney, the investigation exerted much pressure on the journalist to make him confess.
After a week in inhumane conditions, Marat was transferred to his former cell, but was not released from custody.
The illegality of the arrest is the most important, but not the only, reason why Marat Kasem must be released.

‘The Most Stupid Thing Latvia Could Have Done’

The Kasem case must also end with his release, because the fact of his arrest is absurd and simply does not correspond to the most basic human principles.
"The most foolish, not wild, not horrible, but foolish thing Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia, that is, the Baltic states, could have done now was to arrest, detain, etc.," Maria Zakharova, director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, commented on the situation surrounding Kasem's arrest.
“And do you know why? Because it's obvious that this is politically motivated persecution of a journalist," Zakharova added.
Dmitry Kiselev, general director of Rossiya Segodnya International News Agency, also noted that the arrest took place in the context of "European lawlessness, when a person can be arrested for his professional journalistic activities, for his opinion, for his position."
"Latvian authorities are taking their usual approach - if there was a person, there would be an article," Kiselev stressed.
It is important to emphasize that Latvia not only arrested the journalist for doing his professional duty on politicized charges but also prevented him from seeing a dying family member.
Marat's grandmother never lived to see Kasem and passed away while he was in custody.
Kasem's arrest and torture certainly damaged Latvia's image as a "civilized" European country. The resilience of Marat, who did not break under torture or the news of his grandmother's death, also does not help the country.
Maria Butina, a member of the Russian State Duma, noted that "Marat Kasem's choice was to work as a journalist in a hostile environment, while retaining the citizenship of a country that hated him. To work at the risk of his life and freedom, to tell the truth."
The absurd case against Marat must be dropped today.

Attack on Russian Media Journalists

Ultimately, the Kasem case must be dropped because it is an extreme example of persecution against Russian media workers in Europe.
Journalists with Russian outlets are subjected to massive attacks by western countries. A significant number of violations take place in European countries, especially in the Baltic states.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has previously stated that there are clear signs of a coordinated line between these states on the issue of Russian media.
Protest near Latvian embassy in Moscow against detention of Sputnik editor Marat Kasem - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.01.2023
Russian Mission in Geneva to UN Commissioner: Pay Attention to Fate of Arrested Sputnik Editor
According to the Baltnews portal, there are now 14 open cases against Marat's colleagues in Latvia alone.
Moreover, the attack on journalists in the face of Marat Kasem is a litmus test for the viability of international human rights institutions.
The Russian Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights appealed to the UN, the Council of Europe and the OSCE about Marat's situation.
"Depending on what answers we get or we don't get, it will be clear what these or those international organizations have become," Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko said.
The Council of Europe and the OSCE have not yet responded.
The official representative of the UN secretary-general called for "legal procedures" to be followed.
However, the UN Human Rights Council refused to discuss Kasem's arrest at its upcoming session, saying “it was not on the agenda.”
"It is disgraceful that the issue of persecution of a journalist for his professional activities, his arrest, detention, repeated interrogations, etc. is not a permanent item on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council," Zakharova said in response to the UNHRC representative's remarks.
The immediate release of Marat Kasem would send a good signal that the campaign of persecution against Russian journalists is coming to an end, and would also put an end to the story of the illegal and absurd arrest.
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