“Ape, Go Back to Your Country!” – Or How Cases Against Racism In Lithuania Are Dealt With
On the 9th of May the District Court of Kaunas ruled against two young people (Paulius E. and Lukas B.), who on the 12th of March in Kaunas at the checkout counter threatened a pregnant woman to “lock her in her boot and await her fate of I. Strasdauskaitė and the husband, Irish national of Indian origin, was subjected to racial slurs and suggested returning to his home country.
Although the case has gained great publicity, the court, after considering the case, announced that the youngsters had only violated public order (Article 284 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania) and sentenced them to one year and six months of imprisonment, obliging them to stay at home from 22 to 6 and to volunteer 120 hours of public service in health institutions, care centres or non-governmental organisations within 12 months.
Evelina Baliko, EFHR lawyer’s assistant, who provided the victims with legal aid free of charge, emphasises that there are doubts as to the amount of the fine. The defendants disagree with the classification of the acts. During the trial, a request was made for additional racist charges against Paulius E. and Lukas B., but the request was rejected. The court stated that “it is known that the defendants shouted “go back to your country”, “leave Lithuania”, subjected him to racial slurs but according to the court, such statements could be addressed to anyone who came to Lithuania”. The judgment also states that ‘there is no reason to believe that such statements by defendants may be racist’.
A representative of the victims and a lawyer’s assistant, Evelina Baliko, claims that such rulings do not correspond with international legal instruments and with the clarifications of the European Court of Human Rights. The eleventh indent of the Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law 2008/913/JHA. It states that “it is important to ensure that the initiation and prosecution of investigations into racist and xenophobic crimes does not depend on reporting or reporting by victims, who are often particularly vulnerable and reluctant to take legal action”. Article 1 of the Decision states that “Each Member State shall take the necessary measures to ensure that the following conduct, when committed intentionally, is punishable by criminal penalties: public incitement to violence or hatred against any group of persons defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin or membership of such a group”.
During the trial, the video record of the witness (available on the internet) was analysed, where one can hear perfectly well how one of the offenders says “go home k*** until I kill that black man b**t”. It is not clear why Lithuanian courts treat such statements as infringements of public order. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why statistics on hate crimes cast doubt on the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and other organisations. In Lithuania, as in this case, racist crimes are not detected.
It is surprising that the court did not acknowledge the fact that the victim was pregnant during the crime as an aggravating circumstance. According to the court’s assessment, “the defendants did not see, did not know, that she could be pregnant”. Interestingly, the victim was then in her 8th month of pregnancy, which makes it difficult to understand that her condition was “unnoticed”. Other respondents have confirmed the pregnancy of the victim in court.
In addition to disproportionate punishment and failure to take into account a crime on racist grounds, the court’s decision will be appealed.