• 2012/02/28

The case of the minister’s G. Steponavičius letter is still opened

The case of the minister’s G. Steponavičius letter is still opened

7313-248-139-largeThe case of the letter of the Minister of Education and Science Gintaras Steponavičius to minority students, which was opened in September 2011, is still not finally closed. On the 27th of February (Monday) the Vilnius Regional Court issued a decision on this matter.

We recall that in August 2011, Minister G. Steponavičius  sent 26 thousands letters to parents of pupils of minority schools in Lithuania in which he was trying to justify amendments to the Law on Education. In September of that year, the EFHR brought ​​two complaints to the Prosecution (PS) of the Republic of Lithuania asking to prosecute the minister G. Steponavičius under Article 168 of the Criminal Code of Lithuania (CC), which prohibits unlawful use or dissemination of information about an individual’s private life and art. 170 of the CC, which provides criminal liability for incitement against any national, racial, ethnic, religious or other group of persons

 -The General Prosecutor’s Office dismissed both complaints. This was motivated by the fact that the letter was of the general nature and therefore it did not contain a concrete recipient and none personal data. Besides, there were no complaints from those directly involved persons (parents, guardians, etc.). Complaint regarding an Article 170 has been recognized as having no legal basis?.

The court dismissed the complaint on the Art. 170 violation, but agreed that a violation of Article 168 took place. The court founded that  prosecutor’s actions were illegal, requesting an investigation. However, the Prosecution Service again took an unfavorable decision. The new argument was that there was no infringement of Art. 409 of the RL CCP, whereby the prosecutor may decide whether or not the complaint of the victim or his legitimate representative, is required to initiate criminal proceedings, if the offense is of public importance, or if it caused damage to a person who for valid reasons, can’t defend his legitimate interests. In addition, the PS again decided that the complainant was brought by wrong entity, while the complaint of any victim or his guardian, which could launch an investigation, has not been received.

The EFHR again appealed to the court for the prosecutor’s actions at the end of 2011. It criticized the decision of the Prosecution Service that the collection of letter recipients by nationality, native language and sending it to clearly defined groups, is not important enough to recognize it as a public interest. Isn’t media resonance, caused by this case and the number of people (2423), who have signed a petition against dissemination and use of data revealing ethnic origin, carried out by the Government, enough to show that wide public interest is involved?

In January of this year, the 1st District Court of Vilnius dismissed the EFHR complaint because of the lack of direct victims’ complaints. Immediately at the beginning of February this year, the EFHR appealed the judgment of the 1st District Court to the Vilnius Regional Court. On Friday, 17th of February, after the day off in Lithuania, at 8:45 am a hearing took place in this case, of which the EFHR had not been informed. The result of it was the postponement of the date of publication of the decision to 27th of February at 8:30 am. As the EFHR found out on Monday (at the day of publication), the decision was also adverse against the EFHR – the court again dismissed its appeal.

The fact that doubts about the legitimacy of G.Steponavičius actions are reasonable shows not only that the EFHR petition was declared permissible under the Rules of the European Parliament and accepted for consideration by the EU Petitions Committee, but also the decision of the State Data Protection Inspectorate of RL. EFHRasked the Inspectorate to investigate whether the Minister’s actions of disseminating and using ethnic minority students personal data, were legal. It concluded that the ministry realized its objective purpose – the efficient management of the education system, and the letters were sent in interest of students and their parents as Minister’s aim was to inform about the changes to the Education Act. At the same time, what is surprising, Inspectorate issued to the Ministry of Education and Science, a recommendation concerning the processing of personal data. It recommended that the Ministry in the future before using the information stored in the register of personal data first must consider the necessity, appropriateness and legality of intended action.  However, Inspectorate denied its earlier opinion, stating that its decision was not based on substantive premise.

The EFHR calls on parents whose children had received a letter from the Minister of Education and Science Gintaras Steponavičius, to contact us. Collection and dissemination of personal data, carried out by the authority of Lithuania, as well as sending letters to minors without parental consent, is a clear violation of the rule of law which includes, inter alia, protection of personal data and the right to privacy. We invite people whose rights have been violated by the letter mentioned above to the EFHR’s office (Liepkalnio g. 103) or call + 370 6 91 50 822 or email efhr@efhr.eu. The European Foundation of Human Rights (EFHR) will provide free consultation and legal assistance.

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