Seimas Ombudsperson: Lithuanian Police Failed to Guarantee LGBT Community’s Right to Peaceful Assembly

The Seimas Ombudsperson Erika Leonaitė found that the police officers’ inadequate response to the actions of hostile provocateurs during a peaceful assembly organised by the Lithuanian Gay League (LGL) did not guarantee the right of the participants of the assembly to peaceful assembly.

The Seimas Ombudsman recommended that the Commissioner General of Police should take measures to ensure that, in future, participants who have obtained a permit to organise an assembly are guaranteed in all cases the practical and effective exercise of their right to peaceful assembly, especially when the full exercise of the right to peaceful assembly is threatened by the actions of agents provocateurs or hostile persons.

In light of the information and videos that appeared in the public space, the Seimas Ombudsperson conducted an investigation on her own initiative into the meeting that took place on 28 September last year, during which police officers did not react to the actions of hostile persons, and the meeting was interrupted as a result.

Participants gathered at the protest to express their concern about the Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effects of Public Information, which contains a discriminatory provision against the LGBT community, and to urge MPs to take into account the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Macatė v. Lithuania.

Leonaitė noted that the examined video recordings show that the provocateurs did not intend to exercise their right to counter-meeting, but they deliberately carried out actions aimed at disrupting the meeting, such as physically intruding among the participants of the meeting and exerting psychological pressure on them, and using the poles of the national flags as sticks.

The freedom and right to assemble is enshrined in both national legislation and international documents and jurisprudence, which emphasise that, in guaranteeing the right to assemble, the state must also ensure the safety of the participants in the assembly.

The Seimas Ombudsperson pointed out that in the case in question, the right of assembly was sought to be exercised by a vulnerable group of society. The ECtHR has repeatedly held that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly includes a positive obligation on the part of the State to provide adequate protection to the participants in the assembly, and that this obligation becomes particularly relevant when persons belonging to minority groups seek to exercise these rights.

“The positive obligation to ensure the effective exercise of the right to peaceful assembly is particularly important, inter alia, in cases where the meeting is aimed at drawing attention to discriminatory provisions and practices in legislation, raising issues of ensuring the rights of vulnerable and/or stigmatised groups of society, which are more likely to face discrimination”, – said Ms Leonaitė.

According to her, “it is necessary to underline that the Constitutional Court has also noted that freedom of assembly is one of the fundamental human freedoms and values in a democratic society. It is an inherent feature of a democratic system. Through freedom of assembly, the right of individuals to participate in peaceful assembly and to freely express their opinions and views is realised, as well as the expression of personal civic activism”.