CIVICUS has produced a new research brief on the state of civic freedoms in Latvia. Freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are guaranteed in Latvia in law and in general in practice. While restrictions to freedom of peaceful assembly were put in place during the state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were gradually removed with the easing of restrictions and finally terminated when the state of emergency ended.
There are processes and frameworks for the participation of civil society in decision-making, which are followed by institutions and administrations. However, civil society – most notably Civic Alliance – Latvia (CAL) – the largest network of civil society organisations (CSOs) in the country – believes that engagement with local and national decision-makers needs to be more structured, deliberative and meaningful.
CSOs face difficulties in achieving and maintaining financial sustainability, which has an impact on the type and breadth of activities they can carry out, as well as on their public visibility. Nevertheless, the strong advocacy work carried out by CSOs means that over the years, funding and partnerships between state institutions and CSOs have been steadily increasing.
The pandemic has contributed to increasing government transparency, with meetings being conducted online and accessible to civil society and other external actors. This practice has continued after the end of the state of emergency: meetings are broadcast live, offering the opportunity to follow and participate in debates.
Press freedom, confidentiality of journalistic sources and access to public information are guaranteed by law. However, during the pandemic, misinformation has been spread on social networks, and the overall trustworthiness of the media and information have been undermined. Journalists who cover topics perceived to be controversial, such as vaccines, migration, or same-sex relations, are routinely subjected to hate or harmful speech online.
Several media channels broadcasting from Russia, considered to be agents of misinformation that pose a threat to Latvia’s security, have been banned. The spreading of misinformation is criminalised under the charge of ‘hooliganism’ and criminal proceedings have been brought against several Latvian people for spreading COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories.
There have been slight improvements in the rights for LGBTQI+ people, including a draft Civil Union Law, which – despite considerable opposition from the most conservative parts of society – is due for its final reading in the parliament by the end of 2022. In May 2022, an Administrative District Court recognised ‘the existence of a public legal relationship’ for a same-sex couple. The judgment recognised that the state has an obligation to provide a same-sex couple with the opportunity to strengthen their family relationship legally and to be recognised as a family by the state.
Download the Latvia research brief here.
Latvia is currently rated Narrowed by the CIVICUS Monitor. There are a total of 40 other countries in the world with this rating (see all). This rating is typically given to countries where the state generally allows individuals and civil society organisations to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of association, but violations of these rights also take place (see the full description of ratings)