Latvian Diplomat Arrested on Porn Charges

Michael Hayes
MINSK, Belarus — The idea that porn could start an international incident may seem like farfetched fodder for a screwball comedy, but with two Eastern European nations squaring off over allegations that a diplomat appeared in a gay porn film and the European Union weighing in to bring the crisis to a resolution, the old saying that truth is stranger than fiction never seemed more appropriate.

According to a report in MosNews.com, a website that covers Eastern Europe, relations between Latvia and Belarus have hit an all-time low after the gay porn flap that saw Belarus arrest a Latvian diplomat on charges that he allegedly appeared in and distributed gay sex films.

Authorities in Belarus set their sights on Latvian diplomat Reimo Smits, raiding his Minsk apartment in late July, after what they called a lengthy investigation.

According to Belarusian Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov, the raid turned up several copies of gay sex films, including at least one featuring Reimo with another man.

“Pornographic materials were confiscated from him,” Naumov said, adding that the investigation had been underway for sometime, but that it had been difficult to ascertain Reimo’s identity.

Footage from the seized tapes was shown on Belarusian TV. The telecast drew sharp criticism from the Latvian capital of Riga, where the Foreign Ministry said the “seized” materials were simply rehashed six-year-old broadcasts from Belarusian TV.

According to Amnesty International Belarus Chairman Viachaslau Bortnik, Belarusian TV has long been known to be a surrogate for the government’s agenda.

“Although homosexuality is not a criminal offence in Belarus, homophobia is widespread and instances of harassment occurred in all spheres of society,” Bortnik said. “The government-controlled media tries to smear the opposition by associating it with homosexuality and their homophobic reports demonstrate that negative attitudes towards homosexuals exist at the highest levels of government.”

Responding to what it called a breach of the 1961 Vienna Convention — the treaty that established ground rules for diplomatic immunity — the Latvian Foreign Ministry has expelled the first secretary of the Belarusian Embassy in Riga for “actions incompatible with diplomatic status.”

Lativa also recalled its ambassador from Minsk and refused to accept the credentials of a new Belarusian ambassador to Riga.

Minsk prosecutors have pressed criminal charges against Smits for possessing and distributing pornographic material.

While there is no clear answer on what exactly caused the rift between the two nations, many international observers believe that Latvia’s criticism of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko for his Soviet-style leadership tactics may be the source of the discord. France and the EU have echoed Latvia’s criticism of Lukashenko.

In the meantime, Finland, which heads the EU until its rotating term expires in 2007, has declared Belarus to be in breach of the Vienna Convention.

“The presidency of the EU expresses its disapproval of the Belarusian authorities’ actions against a diplomat of the embassy of the Republic of Latvia in Minsk,” an EU spokesman said.

The spokesman said the EU presidency was calling on Belarusian authorities for an immediate explanation and to abide by international law.