Vilnius authorities ordered to reconsider LGBT pride venue
Vilnius City Council will have to reconsider its previous decision not to allow an LGBT pride march on the central avenue.
After the authorities refused to allow the Lithuanian Gay League (LGL) to hold the pride event on Gedimino Avenue and suggested instead a less central venue, the organization turned to court. On Thursday, the court ruled that Vilnius City Council did not follow proper procedure in coordinating details for the event and ordered to consider the organizers' application anew.
"Since the parties failed to find a site for the event that would suit both, the city municipality should have refused to agree on the notification about the march rather than select another site that had not been requested by the organizers," the court said in its press release.
According to the court, the authorities can refuse to agree on an event and thus restrict citizens' right to peaceful assembly only if it violates values listed in Article 36 of the Constitution (security of the state and the society, public order, public health or morals, or rights and freedoms of other people).
The organizers of the Baltic Pride have requested to hold the march on Gedimino Avenue, but the City Council relocated the event to less central Upės Street, saying that the police would not be able to maintain public order in the location chosen by the organizers. Moreover, they said, the march would disrupt traffic and operations of local shops and restaurants.
The Police Department told the court that residential and commercial buildings along Gedimino Avenue would have to be overseen by officers during the event and would present a considerable task, since "there is a threat that objects might be thrown from roofs of the buildings."
According to the police, the alternative site, Upės Street, would present less difficulty in maintaining public order and ensuring safety of the participants. Moreover, this is where the previous Baltic Pride march took place in 2010, so the police have some experience of working there.
However, the court decided that possible complications in maintaining public order on Gedimino Avenue does not mean it cannot be done.
According to the LGL, holding a pride march on Upės Street would beat the purpose of the event which is aimed at raising public awareness about Lithuania's LGBT community and its problems.
The Baltic Pride is an annual festival organized by LGBT organizations from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia and held in Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn on a rotating basis. This year's festival is taking place between 22 and 27 July in Vilnius and will include a pride march, a human rights conference, an art exhibition, and a film festival.
It is also meant to commemorate the 20th anniversary of decriminalization of homosexuality in Lithuania.
Vilnius officials say they will decide what to do next - to appeal against the court ruling or to comply - once they officially receive the decision.
"We think that the court did not fully take into account our arguments. Our decision to suggest Upės Street was in consideration of the safety of march participants themselves and the interests and needs of the society. The decision was not made unilaterally, since we based it, among other things, on the expert opinion of the Chief Police Commissioner who said it would, unfortunately, be difficult to ensure safety for marchers and the public on Gedimino Avenue. That is why we offered another site," said Miroslavas Monkevičius, secretary of Vilnius City Council.