Thu May 13, 11:56 am ET
RIGA (AFP) – Latvian police Thursday released a suspected cyber-vigilante accused of leaking tax information in an internet campaign that left the Baltic nation's elite red-faced, amid protests over his arrest.
"Taking into consideration his attitude, his confession of the crime, and his cooperation in the investigation, we did not seek his pre-trial detention," Ieva Reksna, a spokeswoman for the state police, told AFP.
Earlier Thursday, hundreds of protesters had chalked slogans outside the main government building in central Riga, calling on the authorities to release the suspected hacker nicknamed "Neo".
"This is about an arrest of an ordinary whistle-blower, who committed no crime, but exposed the fact that many government institutions were not following government policy of reducing costs and salaries," protester Juris Kaza, a journalist with the local news agency Leta, told AFP.
"This is an outrage," he said.
Among the slogans were "In Latvia, to be smart and honest is a crime" and "Don't forget who elected you".
Another protest by gagged men wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Our choice is Neo" took place outside the prosecutor general's office.
"I think the way police acted was unjustified," said philosophy student Armands Leimanis, who organised the gathering via the microblogging site Twitter.
Local media named the suspect, detained Wednesday, as Ilmars Polkans, an artificial intelligence researcher at the University of Latvia.
Police said he was accused of illegally connecting to a database and distributing its information, a crime carrying up to 10 years in prison.
He allegedly copied over 7.5 million documents, including those on the pay of senior state officials, and drip-fed the information onto the Internet.
Using Twitter to reveal the data, he said his goal was to expose failings in a government-imposed austerity drive sparked by Latvia's deep economic crisis.
On Tuesday evening, police raided the home of a reporter who had broken the story of the hacking campaign in February.
The raid sparked uproar among journalists who dubbed it a breach of press freedom, and Latvia's human rights ombudsman launched an investigation Thursday.