Lithuania’s Supreme Administrative Court has ruled that the first pride march to be held in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, must be allowed to go ahead, overruling a lower court decision made earlier in the week that suspended the event’s license.
Gay rights activists accused Lithuania’s officials – particularly the interim Attorney General who petitioned for the suspension – of using supposed public security concerns to mask their homophobia, with advocates of the march saying that law enforcement officials around the capital have repeatedly said that they have adequate manpower to ensure the safety of those that attend.
On Friday, the Supreme Administrative Court for Lithuania ruled that, in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights, the State must ensure that the public are allowed to exercise a right to peaceful freedom of assembly and that the duty of State officials to guarantee that right for all must be adhered to. This, the court stressed, includes minorities who may hold or represent “unpopular” ideologies.
The court also said that negative consequences of such freedoms, for instance the rumored threats of violence against the marchers, was not grounds enough to prevent the march when “the freedom of remedies is applicable only after the expected date of the meeting” referring to the fact that the lower court that had temporarily suspended the license for the march would only have heard the case after the pride event’s scheduled date, effectively canceling the event and therein rendering the later decision superfluous.
Here’s some background on the events leading up to this decision from an AP report released on Wednesday:
A court in the capital, Vilnius, suspended a permit for Lithuania’s first gay parade after the country’s acting prosecutor general Raimondas Petrauskas said he had evidence “that members of hardline, violent groups are planning to protest and organise various provocative acts”.
Organisers of the event and human rights activists said the ban amounted to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender (LGBT) people in mostly Catholic and morally conservative Lithuania, and the country’s president quickly condemned the court decision.
“What’s most astonishing is the fact that the police say they are ready to provide security, while the chief prosecutor sees a risk,” said Linas Balsys, a spokesman for President Dalia Grybauskaite.
“The bodies responsible for public order, above all the police, have an obligation to ensure a situation remains calm and there are no clashes. There’s a constitutional right to peaceful assembly. If groups of citizens or organisations aren’t illegal, they have a right to express their views,” he added.
As such, Baltic Pride organizers filed a complaint alleging that the Attorney General was trying to exert illegal pressure so as to prevent LGBTs from exercising their legal right to peaceful association.
Amnesty International also heavily criticized the Attorney General’s stance, saying in a press release:
“The authorities in Lithuania must ensure that the march goes ahead unobstructed and safely as they are obliged under international law to guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Anything less will amount to discrimination,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination in Europe.
“The Attorney General’s application is an abuse of the legal process and will result in the violation of human rights.” …
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said on Wednesday that if groups or organizations are not banned by law, they have the right to express their opinion as guaranteed by the Constitution of the country.
As noted above, the Attorney General’s call to block the parade comes despite the police saying that they have enough manpower to ensure security, with approximately 800 officers having been assigned ahead of time to police the event. The event is expected to draw around 300 marchers.
Approved in January, the parade was seen as a step forward by human rights activists. In previous years other such parades had been prevented from going ahead, again over security concerns.
In 2007 an EU sponsored parade for tolerance of minorities (not specifically for LGBTs although they were obviously included) was prevented from taking place when authorities cited that anti-gay protesters may become violent.
This time, however, International LGBT rights groups hoped that it was not too late to have the court’s decision reversed and requested that the Supreme Administrative Court should overturn what amounted to a ban on the march.
Referring to today’s decision, ILGA-Europe issued this statement:
Representatives of lesbian, gay, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) organisations from various EU member states, who currently meet in Vilnius for ILGA-Europe’s EU Network, wholeheartedly welcome the decision of the Lithuanian Supreme Administrative Court to uphold the permission by the Vilnius Mayor for the Baltic Pride March for Equality to go ahead tomorrow as originally planned.
ILGA-Europe and its member organisations regard this decision as a triumph of the rule of law and democratic values in Lithuania. Lithuania was the last EU member state whose authorities were trying to prevent LGBTI people from their constitutional right to peaceful assembly. Today’s decision confirms that Lithuania also fully respects its international human rights obligation.
We look forward to the very first LGBT March for Equality which will take place tomorrow in Vilnius and congratulate the organizers of the March – the Lithuanian Gay League, the Tolerant Youth Association and their Baltic partners, Latvian Alliance of LGBT People and Their Friends Mozaika and the Estonian Gay Youth organization – for this important victory.
We hope that tomorrow’s March for Equality will be supported by the Lithuanian people. We call on those may be planning any counter demonstrations to respect the decision of the court, to demonstrate maturity and understanding and to refrain from any obstructive activities. We trust the Lithuanian police will do their job professionally and ensure the security and safety of all participants.
Friday’s court ruling to let the pride event go ahead will be a significant boost to LGBTs in the region. It comes after a recent censorship law came into effect that, although targeting a number of categories of information, has a specific focus on materials that could be considered to be “promoting” homosexuality.
While the President previously vetoed the law, called the Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information, Lithuania’s Legislature forced the measure through with even more stringent anti-gay clauses attached, saying that it was necessary in order to protect the “mental well-being” and “intellectual or moral development” of the country’s young people.
Those opposed to Saturday’s pride march had attempted to advance the notion that the march would violate this law, perhaps demonstrating how overreaching and worrying the legislation is. For more information on the law, please click here.
Saturday’s march is part of a wider Baltic Pride 2010 celebration that aims to cover a broad range of topics, including seminars on diversity in education, the showcasing of LGBT inclusive films, as well as an international conference on “Human Rights Combating Fear and Prejudice,” an event that now seems rather timely given the circumstances.
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