Vilnius Municipal Authorities Ban Upcoming Baltic Pride 2013 March for Equality
2013 06 27
On 26 June 2013 the Vilnius municipal authorities refused to allow the Baltic Pride 2013 March for Equality through central Gediminas Avenue on 27 July 2013. The administration of Vilnius Municipality has declined not only the location, proposed by the organizers, but also the time and the form of the event, thus in effect banning the march all together. The Lithuanian Gay League is of a position that this decision amounts to the disproportionate and discriminatory limitation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly for the local LGBT* community and is planning to appeal against this decision before the national courts once again.
Municipality claims that it was implementing the Court’s judgment
On 20 June 2013 the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania passed a ruling, ordering the municipal authorities of Vilnius to review their initial decision regarding the location of the Baltic Pride 2013. The Court ruled that Vilnius City Municipality had made a non-substantiated decision to move the planned event from the centrally located Gedimino Avenue, as requested by organizers, to rather isolated and inaccessible area on the Upės Street. However, the judgment indicates that if the parties involved fail to come to an agreement during negotiations, Vilnius authorities must issue a refusal which could subsequently be appealed before the courts anew. That is exactly the way the municipal authorities have decided to proceed, despite the fact that there is less than one month remaining to the actual event.
"The deputy administration director has decided against coordinating the location, timing and form [of the event]" Julius Morkūnas, deputy director of Vilnius Municipality's Safe City Department, told journalists after a meeting with organizers of the event. He cites the Law on Public Meetings that bans rallies and picket actions closer than 25 meters from state institutions and closer than 75 meters from court buildings. There are several ministries and courts located on Gedimino Avenue. "She [the deputy administration director] also based her decision on the constitutional article stating that the right to associations cannot be limited, unless it may limit the rights of other people," Morkūnas said. The position of the Municipality was not influenced by the statement by the representative of the police force indicating that the law enforcement officials would be ready to ensure security during the march irrespective of it location, be it on Gediminas Avenue, as the organizers wish, or on Upės Street, as previously proposed by the municipal authorities.
LGL interprets this decision as an actual ban on Baltic Pride
LGL is of a position that the refusal by the Vilnius City Municipality not to allow for the Baltic Pride 2013 March for Equality to proceed on the Gediminas Avenue constitutes disproportionate limitation on the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly by the local LGBT* community, thus constituting the actual ban of the event and establishing discrimination against this social group.
According to the judgments by the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court and the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania, the Vilnius City Municipality was obliged to reconsider the initial notification on the Baltic Pride 2013 March for Equality with regards to the location of the event. Therefore the decision by the municipality to reject not only the proposed location of the event, but also its time and form constitutes an actual ban to the event, organized by the LGL. It has to be noted that the initial ‘authorization’ of the Baltic Pride 2013 March for Equality by the Vilnius City Municipality was judicially admitted to be illegal only with regards to the unilateral relocation of the event. Therefore the current decision of the Municipality to ban the event all together contradicts not only the judgments by the national courts, but also the previous position by the Municipality itself.
The Courts have noted that in this particular instance neither the Municipality, nor the Police Department has submitted actual evidence, allowing the public authorities to limit the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly for the local LGBT* community in the context of the Baltic Pride 2013 March for Equality. Therefore the argumentation by the administration of the Vilnius City Municipality that “public order, morals and public security might be threatened” is of a declaratory nature and does not correspond with the facts, established by the Courts. It has to be emphasized that the police force is ready to secure the public order and the security of the participants irrespective of the location of the event.
In relation to the argumentation by the administration of the Vilnius City Municipality that the Law on Public Meetings bans rallies and picket actions closer than 25 meters from state institutions and closer than 75 meters from court buildings, LGL notes that the blanket application of this rule equally to all social groups would result in a situation, where no public events could be organized on Gediminas Avenue all together. In addition to this, there can be no absolute limitation to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in a democratic society – every limitation has to pursue the legitimate aim and it has to be proportionate to the aim sought. It has to be emphasized that the Baltic Pride 2013 March for Equality will be organized on Saturday, i.e. non-working day, therefore the legal basis for limitation, formally applied by the administration of the Vilnius City Municipality, is clearly of disproportionate and discriminatory nature.
The LGL regrets that, with exactly one month remaining to Baltic Pride 2013 March for Equality, and only several days away from the start of Lithuania's EU Presidency, the effective right to peaceful assembly is not being guaranteed in the Republic of Lithuania. The organizers of the event believe that the decision by the administration of the Vilnius City Municipality constitutes a disproportionate and discriminatory limitation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly by the local LGBT* community and are planning to appeal against this decision before the national courts. Irrespective of these negative developments, LGL continues to plan the Baltic Pride 2013 March for Equality on Gerdminas Avenue and it will put all the efforts to defend the right to freedom of peaceful assembly by the local LGBT* community through the legal means in smooth, rapid and effective manner.
The decision by Municipality condemned both by ILGA-Europe and Amnesty International
International non-governmental organization Amnesty International has condemned a decision by Vilnius authorities to ban the Baltic Pride 2013 March for Equality through the Lithuanian capital's central Gedimino Avenue, and pledges to continue pressure on the country's government. "Maybe I can just say that Amnesty International is very disappointed about the city council's decision today," Amnesty International representative Helle Jacobsen told journalists on Wednesday. Following a meeting at Vilnius Municipality earlier that day, she said that the March for Equality, planned for July 27, is being organized to demand equal rights. In her words, signatures will be collected for the march to take place.
ILGA-Europe, i.e. European section of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, has issued the public statement as well, indicating that they are appalled by the failure of the Vilnius City Council to guarantee the fundamental right to freedom of assembly of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people in Lithuania. ILGA-Europe indicated that this decision is particularly troubling as on 1 July 2013 Lithuania takes over the EU Presidency, and hence takes on a particularly visible role as promoter of EU values and principles. To put it in other words, Lithuania takes on this role at the same time that it blatantly fails to uphold human rights and principles upon which the EU is based.