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2021

March 2021: Initiative on the Legalization of Euthanasia in Latvia
The issue of legalizing euthanasia in Latvia became a discussion topic in 2016, when the Latvian public donated money for an (...)

  • March 2021: Initiative on the Legalization of Euthanasia in Latvia

The issue of legalizing euthanasia in Latvia became a discussion topic in 2016, when the Latvian public donated money for an incurably ill person to fulfil his final wish of visiting Switzerland to undergo euthanasia. Even though the person died before his proposed trip to Switzerland, the issue of legalizing euthanasia became, thus, an important topic. An initiative called Par labu nāvi [For a Good Death] began in 2017, aiming for the legalization of euthanasia in Latvia. The initiative’s proponents explained that the allowing active euthanasia and medical-practitioner-assisted suicide would benefit to incurably ill people who could end their suffering voluntarily. Ten thousand signatures were needed to enable this initiative to be considered by the parliament (the Saeima) of the Republic of Latvia. This number was obtained within four years. The initiative was then submitted to the parliament for consideration.

On 10th March 2021, a parliamentary committee reviewed the joint submission by citizens of the Republic of Latvia regarding the legalization of euthanasia. Prior to making their decision, the committee heard six experts: two medical practitioners and four clergymen (representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Union of Baptist Churches and the Orthodox Church). One of the experts, the President of the Society of Anaesthesiologists and Reanimatologists of Latvia, spoke in favour of euthanasia. She admitted, however, that there was still a long way to go before a decision enabling the legalization of euthanasia could be made. This expert explained that extremely precisely regulated access to euthanasia was needed in Latvia, and that the first step could be that of assisted suicide – a process where patients themselves end their lives, avoiding medical practitioners having to resolve the ethically complicated dilemma of ending a person’s life or extending their suffering. The arguments of the other experts were against the legalization of euthanasia in Latvia, mostly because they viewed it as a risk of devaluation of the sanctity of life. The view of one of the committee members, a medical practitioner, was that the Latvian public has to first be prepared for the legalization of euthanasia. He conceded that, initially, a regulation could be introduced allowing medical practitioners to not revive a lethally ill person. Pointing out that passive euthanasia or the termination of medical treatment in hopeless situations should be distinguished from active euthanasia, the politician proposed the first step as the sorting out of passive euthanasia in legislation. He has prepared amendments to the Law on the Rights of Patients concerning passive euthanasia which will be submitted for consideration by parliamentary committees. In practice, this means the legal regulation of situations where a lethally ill patient asks for the maintenance of their life using artificial measures, for example artificial respiration, to be discontinued.

The parliamentary committee, emphasizing that everyone has the right to life, rejected the submission on the legalization of euthanasia: 12 of the 14 parliamentarians on the committee voted against legalization and two abstained. Even though the initiative to legalize euthanasia was rejected, discussion continued, revealing problems of a serious nature. (1) The palliative care system in Latvia is in a critical condition. The demand for state-funded palliative care, encompassing pain relief, psychological and spiritual assistance, far exceeds availability. The care of dying people is most often undertaken by relatives within the home. There is a long queue for state-funded seven-day palliative care, which means that palliative care is unavailable for people with limited financial means. (2) If euthanasia were to be legalized, the possibility of the slippery slope effect, or its malicious use by medical institutions or relatives to free themselves of seriously ill patients, would have to be eliminated. The euthanasia procedure would have to be rendered mistake-proof. This would cover, for example, situations where there was still a chance of a medical situation improving, or a legally competent patient changing their mind.

The discussion on euthanasia had already commenced before the Covid-19 pandemic. Draft legislation was prepared in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, medical practitioners, lawyers and specialists on medical ethics. In prescribed circumstances, this would allow medical practitioners to not reanimate a patient whose life would soon be taken by an illness, despite every effort by medical practitioners. Currently, medical practitioners do not have these sorts of rights in Latvia. During the pandemic, it has become even clearer that a serious discussion is required on the medical, ethical and legal grounds for euthanasia.

D 30 March 2021    AAnita Stasulane

2020

May 2020: Religious organizations and taxation in Latvia: recommendations are pending
Religious organisations in Latvia must each year submit a report to the State Revenue Service (SRS) about (...)

  • May 2020: Religious organizations and taxation in Latvia: recommendations are pending

Religious organisations in Latvia must each year submit a report to the State Revenue Service (SRS) about income and expenditure, including donations and gifts. Congregations do not have to pay company income tax, nor do they have to pay it for income received, for example, from the rental of real estate or from business. Donations are not included in the category of company income tax if the donations are received to achieve a goal defined in the religious organisation’s statutes and do not have a profit-making purpose. Respectively, tax payments do not have to be made for donations, but the flow of money should be trackable: the donation received has to be registered and its utilisation must be clearly visible.

There are no restrictions on the receipt and utilisation of donations and gifts currently in Latvia, which is why any person can make a donation or gift. Congregations must observe general bookkeeping requirements. Donations must be collected in accordance with the procedure approved by the head of the religious organisation and must be listed as income for the congregation and a receipt prepared. If a religious organisation receives a donation or gift of property, then the partner to the transaction must prepare a justificatory document, which confirms the donation or gift which has been made by, for example, a deed of conveyance. The general procedure is that everything which has been received must be registered. It should be added that the religious organisation must issue a SRS registered receipt for the donation received at the donor’s request.

If a religious organisation receives a donation or gift of property, then the tax does not have to be paid, but the gift must be registered in bookkeeping inventory documents. For example, there has to be a deed of conveyance in which the quantity of the donated or gifted property, as well as its approximate value in money terms, appears. Whereas, if the gift has been received by a priest, the same requirements are applied as for any other physical person. Personal income tax does not have to be paid for a gift from a third-degree relative. If the donor and the priest are not connected by kinship to the third degree, then income tax must be paid from a gift which exceeds 1,425 euros per year. Gifts from legal persons are subject to tax and the legal person has an obligation to pay the tax.

Payments for religious rituals, for example, baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc., should be evaluated in accordance with the prescribed procedure for the specific denomination. If a donated payment (a donation in cash) is made for religious rituals, then this payment should be registered as a gift. Whereas, if a payment is made as if it was for a service, this payment is registered as income from religious activities in accordance with the procedure for a religious ritual prescribed by the head of the congregation.

Previously, the SRS had not focused particular attention on religious organisations, as they were not the largest taxpayers. Currently, the SRS, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance are developing recommendations for religious organisations. It can be expected that the issue of taxation policy for religious organisations in Latvia will become more topical as quite diverse proposals have been received on the improvement of the system and amendments to acts.

D 25 May 2020    AAnita Stasulane

2019

June 2019: Amendments to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church
On June 6, 2019, the Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saeima) supported amendments to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church (...)

  • June 2019: Amendments to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church

On June 6, 2019, the Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saeima) supported amendments to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church which determines that only a citizen of the Republic of Latvia who has permanently resided in the country for no less than 10 years can become the head of the Orthodox Church, or a metropolitan, a bishop, or be a candidate for these positions.

Until now, the statutes of the Latvian Orthodox Church determined that the head of the Church, the metropolitans, and the bishops, must be citizens of the Republic of Latvia who have resided in Latvia for a prescribed period. These requirements have now been fixed in a law of the Republic of Latvia. The annotation to the draft law explains that these amendments were needed to ensure the self-determination and self-ruling rights of the Latvian Orthodox Church, and to respect its position on the demands which could be made concerning the Church personnel.

The chairman of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee which is responsible for the progress of the draft law emphasized that the determination of citizenship and residential criteria for officials in such a religious organizations, where the leadership is located outside of Latvia, will allow for the strengthening of the autonomy of the organization and the capacity to disassociate itself from potential foreign influence. This, in turn, would strengthen the Latvian state and public security.

In reviewing the submitted draft law on amendments to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church, the Saeima (Legal Affairs Office) had asked that it would not be advanced for further review, as the necessity and proportionality of this restriction on rights was not sufficiently justified. However, the amendments were considered a matter of urgency, with 79 members voting in favour and nobody voting against. There were no debates, objections or proposals, as a representative of the Latvian Orthodox Church had previously expressed support for the amendments at a meeting of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee.

The current Latvian Orthodox Church’s Metropolitan of Rīga and all Latvia, Aleksander (born in 1939), fulfils the new legal requirements. The amendments were adopted as a matter of urgency, taking into account events in Estonia: after the death of the Estonian Orthodox Church’s leader Metropolitan Kornelius, Metropolitan Jevgeni, who was nominated by the Moscow Patriarchate, was elected in his place. In contrast to the leader of the Latvian Orthodox Church, the Estonian Metropolitan had criticized the Constantinople Patriarchate’s decision on the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

  • February 2019: A Turning Point in the Operations of Latvia’s Religious Organizations

The religious situation in Latvia is changing in a similar way as it is in Estonia and Ukraine. In Estonia, there have been two Orthodox churches since the mid-1990s: one is under the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchate, while the other is led by the Moscow Patriarchate. Similar processes have also taken place recently in Ukraine.

Latvijas Pareizticīgā autonomā baznīca [Latvian Orthodox Autonomous Church] addressed the Register of Enterprises of the Republic of Latvia, requesting to be registered as a religious organization. The request was rejected, as the Law on Religious Organizations (Section 7, 3) prescribes that congregations from one denomination can only form one religious association (Church) in Latvia. As the Orthodox denomination is already registered in Latvia as a religious association (Church), the registration of another religious community as an Orthodox Church is illicit.

The Latvian Orthodox Autonomous Church turned to the courts and the matter ended up in the Constitutional Court, which then assessed whether believers had the right to choose the denomination or Church to which they wish to belong, or whether they did not have this right. This is an important legal question, as questions of human rights and religious freedom are affected. The Latvian Orthodox Autonomous Church requested that the Constitutional Court recognized its legal continuity, as it has been a registered religious organization even before Latvia’s occupation (1940), and demanded to enter as a legal person in the register of religious organizations and their institutions.

The 2018 judgement is an important turning point in the operations of Latvia’s religious organizations, as the Constitutional Court recognized that the norm in the Law on Religious Organizations, which forbids the founding of more than one religious association (Church) within the framework of one denomination, did not correspond with the Constitution of Latvia (Satversme). The requirement that new religious associations, which commence operations in Latvia for the first time and do not belong to previously registered religious associations (Churches), have to be reregistered every year for their first ten years, and only then gain the rights of a religious association (Church), has also been revoked.

In Latvia, the issue of the degree to which the state should be regulating the life of religious associations (Churches), so as not to breach Article 99 of the Constitution of Latvian (Satversme) on the separation of the Church and State, has arisen. Several members of the Parliament (Saeima) have expressed the position that the State should be very reticent on the desire to go into detail in the regulation of religious organizations, as this could border on interference in the life of the Church. In looking at amendments to the Law on Religious Organizations, the legislature will be forced to respond on the location of this boundary in the near future. In February 2019, the Latvijas juristu apvienība [Latvian Bar Association] held a discussion on whether any changes would take place in the operation of religious organizations after this judgement, and if so, of what kind.

Source: Latvijas Vēstnesis.

D 25 June 2019    AAnita Stasulane

2018

January 2018: Law on the restriction on wearing face coverings
A draft law on the restriction on wearing face coverings worked out by the Ministry of Justice (2015) is still under consideration. (...)

  • January 2018: Law on the restriction on wearing face coverings

A draft law on the restriction on wearing face coverings worked out by the Ministry of Justice (2015) is still under consideration. It has not yet reached the Parliament of Latvia, Saeima, which will have to decide whether to support it conceptually. On August 7, 2017, the Committee of the Cabinet of Ministers examined this draft and supported forwarding it for further consideration in the Cabinet of Ministers. On November 14, 2017, the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee of the Latvian Saeima did not pass a decision on the draft “Law on the restriction on wearing face coverings” because representatives of several institutions and several MPs had voiced criticism about the quality of the indicative abstract and the wording of the draft.

Several state institutions and officials in charge objected to the draft law on the restriction on wearing face coverings. The Security police emphasised two aspects: (1) introducing any kind of bans resonates negatively with the individuals concerned; (2) international terrorist organisations pay attention to countries that they perceive as having regulations that oppress Muslims. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not convinced by the assessment of the situation in Latvia given in the draft law, because the necessity of posing such a restriction was based on arguments taken over from France and Belgium – the only European countries which have introduced a general ban on wearing in public garments that cover the face. The Office of the Ombudsman pointed out that by restricting specific groups of individuals to wear veils covering the face it is impossible to reach the intended aim, which is to ensure the existence of a united and harmonious society.

D 26 January 2018    AAnita Stasulane

2017

September 2017: The status of legal entity denied to the Latvian Autonomous Orthodox Church
In 1994, the Latvian Orthodox priest-monk Viktors Kontuzorovs (b.1944) left the Latvian Orthodox (...)

  • September 2017: The status of legal entity denied to the Latvian Autonomous Orthodox Church

In 1994, the Latvian Orthodox priest-monk Viktors Kontuzorovs (b.1944) left the Latvian Orthodox Church and joined the Russian autonomous Orthodox Church. Over the past 23 years, the Latvian autonomous Orthodox Church has tried to gain registration as an “Orthodox Church”. This demand for official registration was unsuccessful since the Section 7(3) of the Law on Religious Organisations (1995) states that only one religious association can be registered to represent a particular denomination, thus prohibiting the registration of two different religious associations for the Orthodox Church. The refusal to register the Latvian autonomous Orthodox Church has lead to a religious freedom issue. On July 19, 2017, the Constitutional court of Latvia started to examine a case regarding the Administrative District Court’s decision to dismiss the application of the Latvian Autonomous Orthodox Church for entering the Register of Religious Organisations, and thus to deny this organisation the status of a legal entity and, therefore, to prohibit its congregations from establishing a religious association, i.e. Church. In the court’s view, the contested norms unreasonably restrict the religious organisation’s right to freedom of religion and association, which is guaranteed by the Latvian Constitution. The Constitutional Court has requested the parliament of the Republic of Latvia to submit by 19 September 2017 a written reply, presenting the facts of the case and legal substantiation.

  • July 2017: Islamophobia on the Internet in Latvia

Websites, social networks, forums and blogs have become the key means for manifesting intolerance and racism, including Islamophobia. Comments published on various websites suggest that people most frequently do not assess the consequences of their published opinions. Anonymity provides a feeling of permissiveness. Moreover, sometimes people think that their individual responsibility decreases on a common internet site where a large number of users express their opinions. The portal focus.lv/tags/islams plays the most active role in publishing information on world events in relation to Islam or Muslims. The materials available on the portal are mainly translations of information made public by world news agencies. The news portals delfi.lv, apollo.lv, tvnet.lv, kasjauns.lv (in Latvian) and vesti.lv; rus.delfi.lv; d-fakti.lv/ru; mixnews.lv/ru (in Russian) publish various information on Islam and Muslims, and the amount of comments containing Islamophobic messages is increasing. One could read insulting readers’ comments about Muslims who were equated with terrorists, while Islam was called the religion of death. Islamophobia goes hand in hand with opposition to immigration. This is clearly pictured on the portal stopimigracija.lv, which has a pronounced Islamophobic nature. A common characteristic of all portals is that they speak about Muslims as threat to security and public safety. The internet space in Latvia, where Islamophobic materials are posted most often, is a place for websites of radical movements, e.g. the home page of the association “Antiglobalists” and that of the Latvian National Front (LNF). Hate crimes are mostly committed in the internet environment, on various portals, especially in the form of comments. Provocation of ethnic and racial hatred, as well as incitement to religious hatred are considered hate crimes in Latvia. Such activities could result in criminal liability.

D 2 October 2017    AAnita Stasulane

2016

May 2016: Leaders of Latvia’s Christian denominations criticize the Istanbul Convention
The Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the so-called (...)

  • May 2016: Leaders of Latvia’s Christian denominations criticize the Istanbul Convention

The Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the so-called “Istanbul Convention”) was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 2011. On April 29, 2016, the leaders of Latvia’s Christian denominations released an open letter about the Istanbul Convention, which pointed out that the Convention in its current form is not acceptable, as it contains significant faults, which "permit tendentious, ideological interpretations – including ones, which also have no connection with the eradication of violence.” The leaders of Latvia’s Christian denominations consider that the Istanbul Convention does not deal with the true causes of violence, but opens up opportunities to force a social gender-ideology based social transformation project on Latvia, which would be inconsistent with the Latvian constitution.

The Church representatives pointed out that the convention does not take a stance against the promotion of violence in the media or pornography, where females are treated as objects in the most degrading way. Also, the convention does not address the issue of the excessive use of alcohol or drugs, which is the main reason for violence within families and in the community, and the convention does not protect from violence children who have been conceived (abortion). The Church leaders invited politicians to do whatever is necessary to eliminate the real causes of violence within the family, and as a consequence to combat violence, which is directed at women.

The Latvian government supported the signing of the Istanbul Convention, but to the degree that it is not in conflict with the constitution. The constitution defines that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, while the convention also mentions gender in the sense of a social theory. The Istanbul Convention was signed by the Minister of Social Affairs of Latvia on 18 May 2016, but it will need to be ratified in the Latvian Parliament (Saeima).

Anita Stasulane
  • February 2016: Latvia is planning to introduce a law banning the wearing of face coverings in public places

In August 2015, Raimonds Vējonis, the President of the Republic of Latvia expressed support for discussions on the wearing of Muslim head-dress in public places in Latvia. His invitation came a week after Estonia’s Social Defence Minister Marguss Cahkna revealed a proposal to ban the wearing of Muslim head-dress and other clothing which covers the face, in public places, in Estonia.

Members of Latvia’s Regional Alliance Party came up with a draft law On the Regulation of Persons Covering their Faces in Public Places. This initiative failed to achieve support of the majority in the Saeima in September: Only 29 members voted in favour, 8 were against, while 45 parliamentarians abstained from voting on the consideration of the draft law.

In November 2015, the Cabinet of Ministers reviewed the report On the Possibility of Introducing a Ban on the Wearing of Face Coverings in Public Places and asked the Ministry of Justice to evaluate the need for the ban. The Ministry informed the government that, bearing in mind Latvia’s laws, the experience of other countries in introducing a similar ban, as well as an evaluation of case law from the European Human Rights Court, a country has the right to implement a ban on the wearing of face coverings in public places. Therefore, the Ministry of Justice acknowledged that this kind of ban could be provided by Latvian law. The government agreed that the Justice Ministry should draft the necessary law.

The draft law foresees the introduction of restrictions in relation to the wearing of a head-dress which covers the face in public places, except in places of worship of religious organizations, prayer rooms and spaces where religious activities are taking place, or at closed private events held in a public place. In a similar way, the restriction does not apply to the private property of individuals, where an owner can determine the regulations and procedures of use of the property. In the annotation to the draft law, the Justice Ministry stated that, bearing in mind the framework of democratic countries and economic factors, the trend for people to migrate cannot be avoided and is a part of our daily lives. However, even in these conditions, a harmonious and united state society, as well as the characteristic traditions, culture, and way of life of the particular state should be preserved. As a consequence, the type of environment which provides for the integration in Latvian society of a person newly arrived in the country should be created in Latvia, as well as unimpeded mutual communication between the members of society.

On 26th February 2016, the Justice Ministry released a draft law about the restriction on wearing face coverings in public places, and invited the public to express their views on it. A month of public consultations took place and the Justice Ministry received 21 opinions. Eight persons supported the draft law, pointing out that the covering of the face did not conform to Latvian traditions and culture, and stated their desire to be able to see the people with whom they are communicating. Thirteen persons did not support the draft law, basing their decision on the following arguments: (1) the restriction on the wearing of face coverings is an unjustified encroachment on human rights, (2) the principle of proportionality was not observed in the development of the draft law, (3) such a restriction promotes division in society and the isolation of Muslim women from the community, (4) it is discriminatory, does not conform to democratic principles and will create many problems of application. The opinions of Muslim congregations vary: five Muslim congregations indicated that the draft law does not affect their rights, whereas two Muslim congregations did not support the draft law.

A survey conducted by TNS Latvia in March 2016 revealed that the majority (77%) of Latvia’s inhabitants aged from 18 to 55 years supported the draft law (42% - definitely yes; 35% - more likely, yes), but 16% did not support it (11% - more likely, no; 5% - definitely no).

The Ministry of Justice is evaluating the results from the public consultations and is continuing to work on the draft law.

Anita Stasulane
  • January 2016: Scientology in Latvian schools

In January 2016, the Latvian media announced the Church of Scientology’s attempts to penetrate schools in Latvia. Already in the summer of 2014, information was provided that representatives from this movement had sent the brochure The Way to Happiness, written by Scientology founder Ron Hubbard, to hundreds of schools in Latvia. Having analysed the contents of the brochure, experts from Latvia’s Ministry of Education and Science acknowledged that it wasn’t suitable for the education and development of children. They claimed it wasn’t educational, and was misleading. Despite this, at a number of schools the leadership has not taken this conclusion into account, and is currently collaborating with the Laimes kalve [the Forge of Happiness] Association, which is connected with one of the Church of Scientology’s branches – Way to Happiness Foundation International, an international organization which provides lectures from its representatives for schoolchildren.

According to Latvian law, representatives from any kind of profession or organization can be invited to schools, as long as their lectures aren’t in conflict with the education standard of Latvia. A school’s leadership is obliged to undertake this evaluation. As explained by a school’s leadership, the topics of the lectures provided by Way to Happiness Foundation are mainly connected with the prevention of dependence, motivation to learn, solving conflict, and achieving competence. As a consequence, in their view, the lectures don’t have a destructive nature, and lecturers from the association are allowed to present lectures in schools. Representatives of the association have lectured children as young as ten, and claim that across Latvia, about 2,000 pupils have heard them.

It is not just Latvia’s schools that are within the sphere of interest of the Church of Scientology. The Laimes kalve association regularly participates in city festivals, in the annual Izglītība [Education] exhibitions, and also presents lectures to city council employees.

Marika Laudere

D 16 December 2016    AAnita Stasulane AMarika Laudere

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