Aivars Lembergs: In prison, it is important to be able to adapt to conditions

In an interview with Neatkarīgā at Riga Central Prison, Aivars Lembergs shared his experience of daily life in prison, as well as his intentions to fight for equal rights for those who are imprisoned and who have not yet been convicted.
18.08.2021. Ritums Rozenbergs
AIVARS LEMBERGS proves that even in the ascetic conditions of prison it is possible to continue work on the implementation of plans, work on the prevention of human rights violations and various nonsense. The politician reminds about people's ability to adapt to conditions without which you might die in prison ©F64

What is the average day like in prison?

Pretty simple. Waking up is at six o'clock in the morning. I also get up at this time. Since I have health problems, I do various exercises that I must do to be able to move. I want to thank the prison administration for allowing me to use the exercise mat on which I exercise. But still, I can't do more than half of what I need to do to maintain my health. The prison can't provide it for me, and as a result, my health is getting worse - I know and feel it. If I were to go to the health commission now, I would undoubtedly be assigned a disability group. From a health point of view, there are some options here. The first is to die, and then you will be helped. The second option is that you become so obviously disabled that you can no longer be cared for here. The third option is to be absolutely healthy, where nothing is wrong with you. I am nearing seventy and it is quite difficult to be completely healthy.

Exercise is followed by morning hygiene. After that, I look at what's in my fridge. I usually eat some salad as a snack. Breakfast is served at 7 am in prison. Breakfast always has porridge - millet, semolina, three-grain or oatmeal.

Sounds healthy.

Yes. I like millet, also oatmeal and semolina. Sometimes the porridge is too liquid, but if it is left for a while, it thickens and is good. The porridge that I like, I also save for lunch. I avoid unnecessary eating at dinner. We are also served eggs. I do not eat bread, except rye bread - less than a loaf over two weeks. You can order products from the store once a week. The assortment of products offered by the store, compared to 2007, when I was in custody for the first time, is incomparably wider and more diverse. In the store, you can buy various canned food - both fish and meat. Of all the meats, I eat only wild meat. Of course, it is much more expensive. However, in the forest the deer are not fed with compound feed. I can also tell if canned meat is of good quality. I must admit, it is high quality. I can't say anything bad. Mackerel and lightly salted salmon are also available. I myself can salt fish better, but, well, you have to live with what they offer in the store. There are also herring in different flavors. A large enough selection of fruits is available. To boost my metabolism, I eat a few apples every day. I also use citrus fruits in my diet.

I work after breakfast. I have worked all this time in prison. I receive more mail than other incoming mail in prison. I get acquainted with the documents, make notes.

Are these legal proceedings or Ventspils City Council documents?

I am now talking about Ventspils City Council documents. These are documents from various council committees. I get acquainted with them and write my comments, express my opinion on this or that issue. I am not allowed to work with documents digitally. Of course, live conversation provides an opportunity to exchange views. I can express an opinion or express doubts on a particular issue, but I cannot discuss it. As I cannot take part in the discussions, it is not physically possible for me to formulate a final opinion. We recently had a discussion about a laser show in the city. Twenty-five years ago, we had a water show in Ventspils. I knew what that was. But we have never had a laser show. We talked about the laser show. In the end, we reduced the price of the offer and decided that it should happen. Then I read the press monitoring and found out that people liked it.

In addition, I listen to and watch the news that are available here - both local and international. Although television channels in Latvia differ, all news are the same in content and essence. Now a lot of money was given to the media during Covid, and this is reflected in the news. Only those media that have not been given public money are different from the others. There are very few of them. I assume that the money has not been given to Neatkarīgā. So you are not fed by them and can write what you think is necessary. In turn, everyone else - be it TV, radio or online news - are all the same. If anything else happens, it is written by an undisciplined journalist and is considered a misunderstanding. With very few exceptions, the same faces are interviewed, the same politicians in the ruling coalition. For those who think differently, access to the media space is 5-10%. The situation is very close to what it was in the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. Whether it was the newspaper "Cīņa", "Padomju Jaunatne", "Sovetskaya Latvija", "Sovetskaya Molodjež" or "Lauku Avīze", all the political news were the same.

In the evening, I watch a movie if there is any on TV. At 10 pm the quiet hour starts, and I go to sleep.

You mentioned that you read Neatkarīgā, but how can you read Neatkarīgā if you can't use a computer?

I receive printed publications also from Neatkarīgā. Materials from the press are prepared for me. If my material producers censor me, it would mean that I receive censored material, but I believe that I am not censored. From the information available to me, I see that the independent news consists of Neatkarīgā, the portals and Puaro. The others, who are fed by the state, write the news identically - only the correct ones.

Besides working on documents, what are your other activities?

I spend a lot of time calling lawyers. The peculiarity is that I can call them, even on holidays, but they can't call me. If they need to tell me something, then they have to come to me in prison, or I have to sense that I should call them. As I have not just one lawyer and legal adviser but several, this communication takes considerable time. It is interesting that in order for a lawyer to come to me, he must obtain the permission of the person conducting the proceedings - the court. This means that the court & Bordāns can decide which lawyer is allowed to visit me and which is not.

Are there lawyers who are not allowed to visit you?

So far there have been none. But, thank God, lawyers can also be called. Of course, I expect the conversations to be listened to, but we are not talking about anything secret.

How often can you contact your relatives?

I can call twice a week for six minutes.

Of course, convicts, those who have been found guilty, have more opportunities to communicate with relatives. In my situation, where there is a wife and two children in the family, I can only talk to each for two minutes. What can a five-year-old boy say in two minutes? Young children think slowly about everything they hear on the phone and then respond slowly. While in quarantine, it was possible to talk via Skype twice a month for fifteen minutes. There you at least have not only sound but also a video. The whole family can be seen and heard on the screen. They can also show me the dog, the cat and what's going on outside the window. Since the quarantine has ended and the state of emergency has been lifted, from August you can no longer communicate via Skype. You can only meet in person. You can meet in person for an hour. This means that my family has to get in the car, drive 200 kilometers to Riga, go through the whole long access procedure to get into a room with five tables, where everyone speaks loudly. They can talk to me for an hour and then follow the procedure to leave. Prison staff carefully checks each member of the family to ensure that they are not bringing anything prohibited into the prison or out of it. The family must then make their way back home.

Apart from the meeting time in prison, it all takes about five hours, which is a total of fifteen man-hours for the family. This means that it takes a day and a half to talk to me for an hour. On the other hand, meeting on Skype does not take any time for the family, except for the one spent in front of the screen. For me, it only means going down one floor. That's it! But it is an absurd situation - if I were a foreigner, I would be able to communicate via Skype twice a month. This means: if I want to communicate with my family via Skype, I must not be a Latvian citizen, but a foreigner - a citizen of Russia, Estonia, New Zealand or Australia. The second option - if my permanent residence were abroad. So, if I lived in Valka, I couldn't use Skype. If I lived in Valga, I could use Skype. This is the attitude of our country towards the citizens of our country! I was once considering the sneaky idea to declare myself in Valga. However, the prison administration is not to blame. This is written in the law.

Now that the appeal has been filed, will there will be less work for you?

Yes. Now everything has been appealed, and I hope to be able to finally read some books. But work won't leave an empty spot. I plan to appeal to the Constitutional Court again to stop another injustice. There is another curiosity in Latvia. I am here because the court has a presumption that I could avoid the enforcement of a judgment, even though, in general, including my arrest in 2007, I have been following this judgment for a year and a half. And I do it exactly as the court wanted - I am in custody. I can no longer avoid it in any way. But it is interesting in Latvia. If I were already a convicted person with a final judgment, now, as I am behaving well, I would be entitled not to be in a closed prison, but in a more lenient prison, with more opportunities to call every day, with more frequent and longer meeting with relatives, with free movement around the prison territory, freer access to doctors, shop, gym, library, chaplain. But since I am innocent under the Constitution and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and under the Criminal Procedure Law, I have fewer rights than a person who has been sentenced to five years in prison with a final judgment. As an innocent, the prison conditions and regime are much harsher and my rights are many times more limited than if I had already been convicted and spent a year and a half in prison as a convict.

Even more! Under current law, if I had been convicted and I would have behaved well, I would have less than two years left until parole. But since I am innocent, I cannot claim it. In Latvia, the law against an innocent person is much more restrictive, harsh and cruel than against a convicted and sentenced person. If I had already been convicted, I would have been able to get out of prison with a bracelet in June next year, and I might be completely released in December. An early release would be possible for me in December 2022. But since I am innocent according to the law, I can't hope for that and I have to sit in jail for another three and a half years.

Therefore, I plan to file a complaint with the Constitutional Court about this injustice. If you are not convicted, i.e., are presumed innocent, you are treated more discriminatory, you have fewer rights and you have to spend longer in detention than if you have been convicted. Such discrimination does not comply with the Constitution.

In addition, I believe that health care in prison also does not comply with the Constitution and the Medical Treatment Law. For example, I have a specific treatment plan. The Medical Treatment Law states that the patient is responsible for the implementation of the treatment plan prescribed by the doctor and only in that case is the doctor responsible for the patient's health. No matter how I try to carry out that plan, the state forbids me to do so. The state has no right to prevent me from implementing the treatment plan prescribed by a doctor.

It follows from the above that I will have to work very hard and work creatively. All this will then eventually have to be formulated by lawyers. However, lawyers alone cannot formulate it, because they are out there, so there are no relevant feelings and understanding of the essence of the issue, the way I have.

Of course, I will also work as a deputy every day, even on weekends.

What is the general attitude towards you from the prison administration and the prisoners?

I cannot say a single bad word about the administration, the staff or the prisoners. On the contrary. Of course, they recognize me. I don't know if all of them but most do. I hear all sorts of encouragements very often and a lot.

Do you also communicate with other prisoners?

There is no communication with them. But here and there from time to time there I hear slogans: "Freedom for Lembergs", "Lembergs for the Prime Minister", "Lembergs for the President". There is no need for a long conversation there. I hear it. So far, I have not heard a single bad word addressed to me. Not even one! Not once! Not only from the detainees but also from others. There are also more positive cases, but I will not talk about them so that no one gets into trouble. The regime must be respected, and it is respected against me as well. I, too, adhere strictly to the regime. I understand where I am. My approach is to adapt. If you can't adapt, you will die.

Will you finally have time in prison to start writing memoirs?

Some of my notebooks perished during the 2007 searches. There are notes from the years of youth and maturity. Yes, I have to start working on memoirs. They are needed.

Do you feel the support of your constituents in prison?

I receive a lot of letters from different residents of Latvia. For example, yesterday I sent eight letters in reply. My main support took place in the last municipal elections. No prisoner will have such support in the next hundred, perhaps even a thousand years. For example, if the Minister of Justice, Jānis Bordāns, had been sanctioned by the United States and placed in prison after the first court judgement, he would certainly have lost the elections, and everyone would have long since forgotten about him. I am also very supported by my folks. They regularly send me many different photos they have taken on the phone. That is another contact point with my people. I feel tremendous support from loved ones and my supporters, and I am very grateful to everyone who supports me.


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