Economist Arrested for Speaking the Truth

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Detained Latvian economist Dmitrijs Smirnovs. Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) RIGA, Latvia — Hammered by economic woe, this former Soviet republic recently took a novel step to contain the crisis. Its counterespionage agency busted an economist for being too downbeat.

“All I did was say what everyone knows,” says Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a 32-year-old university lecturer detained by Latvia’s Security Police. The force is responsible for hunting down spies, terrorists and other threats to this Baltic nation of 2.3 million people and 26 banks.
Now free after two days of questioning, Mr. Smirnovs hasn’t been charged. But he is still under investigation for bad-mouthing the stability of Latvia’s banks and the national currency, the lat. Investigators suspect him of spreading “untruthful information.” They’ve ordered him not to leave the country and seized his computer.
Finance is a highly touchy subject in Latvia, one that the state tries, with unusual zeal, to shield from loose tongues. It is a criminal offense here to spread “untrue data or information” about the country’s financial system. Undermining it is outlawed as subversion.
So, when the global financial system began to buckle this autumn, Latvia’s Security Police mobilized to combat destabilizing chatter about banks and exchange rates. Agents directed their attention to Inter-(p. A19)net chat rooms, newspaper articles, cellphone text messages and even rock concerts. A popular musician was taken in for questioning after he cracked a joke about unstable Latvian banks at a performance.
Just one problem: Much of the speculative buzz now turns out to ring true.
. . .
In Latvia’s Soviet past, officials routinely blamed their problems on saboteurs or other scapegoats. “This is part of our political culture,” says Sergei Kruks, a media-studies lecturer. “If the state doesn’t have a solution, it has to find someone to blame.”

For the full story, see:
ANDREW HIGGINS. “How to Combat a Banking Crisis: First, Round Up the Pessimists; Latvian Agents Detain a Gloomy Economist; ‘It Is a Form of Deterrence’.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 1, 2008): A1 & A19.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

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