Burns death of homophobia victim shocks Latvia

Normunds Kinzulis [Twitter]

The death of a gay Latvian man this week after his clothes were soaked with fuel and lit on fire has shocked the country, with campaigners calling it a homophobic attack and accusing police of inaction.

Normunds Kindzulis, 29, a paramedic, sustained burns to 85% of his body in the early hours of April 23 and died of his injuries on Wednesday (28 April).

Kindzulis had received homophobic death threats in the past and had relocated from the capital Riga to Tukums, a quiet town around 70 kilometres to the west, according to press reports.

But in Tukums too he was a victim of homophobia and he was physically attacked at least four times.

Local police reportedly failed to investigate.

Police have not ruled out that he may have wanted to commit suicide because of the threats.

“Driving someone to the verge of suicide is also a crime,” Andrejs Grishins, deputy chief of Latvia’s criminal police, told reporters on Thursday.

The case has prompted a national debate about homophobia in Latvia, an EU member state of 2 million people that amended its constitution in 2006 to specifically ban same-sex marriage.

“We don’t want to live in a homophobic society… Change is needed… and we want that change NOW,” Mozaika, a gay rights association, said on Facebook.

President Egils Levits, a former European Court of Justice judge, has also spoken out on the incident.

“There is no place for hatred in Latvia,” he said.

The victim’s colleague and flatmate Artis Jaunklavins, who is still in hospital, said he found Kindzulis burning outside their home.

“I woke up from screams in the corridor. Normunds was flaming like a torch,” he told Delfi news site.

“I tried to put out the flames, I carried him in and put him in the bath but the burns were too severe, his clothing had fried into his skin.”

The burned entrance of their home has now been covered with rainbow posters and gay flags.

Local police initially refused to open a formal investigation, saying in a statement that “there is no full evidence that a crime took place”.

Following the man’s death, the police are now required by law to open a criminal investigation.

There is a separate probe into the alleged failure of Tukums police to investigate threats against him.

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