Two gay men were set ablaze in Latvia in a horrific hate crime that was originally reported by authorities as a pile of burning clothes. One of the victims, identified as Artis, told the local Tukums Independent News their homophobic neighbor set ablaze his roommate, identified as Normund, just outside their front door in the early morning hours of April 22. Artis was also burned trying to help extinguish his fully engulfed friend, who remains in hospital with burns over most of his body. Despite Latvia’s refusal to recognize marriage equality, the country’s president Egils Levits tweeted a statement decrying the crime and saying it had no place in Latvian society.
“I woke up from a friend's screams and cries for help at 4:00 in the morning,” Artis wrote to Tukems. “When I opened the door, he was already on fire!”
Artis was upset the paper and the State Fire and Rescue Service (VUGD) had originally reported the crime as a pile of burning clothes.
“He has 85 percent burns, and doctors are fighting for a friend's life!” Artis continued. “But you write that a pile of rags has burned!”
President Egils Levits tweeted “there is no place for hatred in Latvia” and that tolerance is the “value of Latvian society” meaning that any “expression of hatred” would be a “crime against society.”
Latvia, a former satellite state of the USSR, has rejected all attempts at recognizing marriage equality in the past. The Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of LGBTI People in Europe and Central Asia 2021 noted the “trend of politicians verbally attacking LGBTI people has grown sizably” in the Baltic state and elsewhere in the region.
Artis said they had previously reported their homophobic neighbor and the alleged perpetrator of the burning hate crime to the police in the past for his repeated harassment and threats against them due to their sexual identity. Artis claimed the neighbor not only wanted them to move out of their apartment building, but out of the city entirely.
“We reported the threat to both the police and the neighbor's workplace, but no reaction followed,” Artis explained. “We had to wait for the person to be mutilated or killed!”
A representative for the State Police confirmed to Tukems they had received a report about the threatening neighbor but decided not to do anything about the case.
“Previously, once in November 2020, the victim had reported the threats to the police,” Janeks Bach of the Tukums district said. “Following examination of this information, a decision was taken to refuse to initiate criminal proceedings and no appeal was lodged against this decision.”
Bachs also confirmed two people were “injured in the fire” and that “criminal proceedings have been initiated and an active investigation is underway,” but declined to provide any additional information.