VILNIUS – Lithuanian Justice Minister Elvinas Jankevicius is set to meet with European Commissioner Didier Reynders in Brussels on Monday and discuss a mechanism of EU citizens' legal protection from persecution by third countries.
"Usually, EU countries do not extradite their citizens to third countries or extradition requests are assessed very thoroughly. But when the extradition request is not about our citizen but, for example, about a citizen of a neighboring country or another EU country, everything happens under a much simpler procedure, which raises huge concern for us," the minister told BNS.
In his words, questions arise whether the same level of legal assistance to defend oneself, incarceration conditions, the right to a fair trial etc. will be ensured in a third country.
Jankevicius said that under the existing practice, when an EU citizen is detained in another EU country under a request of a third country, the EU country sends an inquiry to the person's country of origin whether that person is not under criminal prosecution there. If not, the person is extradited to the third country.
The issue is important not only for Lithuania but all EU member states, the minister says.
"We are speaking about the possibility of not only Lithuanian citizens, but also about that of citizens of other EU states, to move freely without the fear of detention and extradition for another country for their performed duties," the Lithuanian minister said.
Jankevicius says he will seek creation of a mechanism for EU citizens to receive the same level of protection across the EU, as they have in their own country.
"We want to raise the issue of the need to review the EU legal base and evaluate member states' commitments under international treaties to avoid loopholes allowing for the execution of third countries' unlawful requests," he said.
The extradition of Lithuanian citizens to third countries became a concern after Russia said it had
launched a criminal investigation against Lithuanian judges and prosecutors who worked on the January 13 case in Lithuania, and accused last year prosecutor Simonas Slapsinskas, who used to worked on the high-profile January 13 massacre case, in absentia. Russia accused the Lithuanian judges of having issued an "obviously wrong verdict" and accused the prosecutor of "unlawful prosecution of Russian citizens".
In late March, a panel of three judges of Vilnius Regional Court found 67 citizens of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and issued prison sentences ranging from four to 14 years.
The verdict has been appealed by both the prosecutor and some of the defendants.
Fourteen civilians were killed and hundreds more were wounded when the Soviet troops stormed the TV Tower and the Radio and Television Committee building in Vilnius in the early hours of Jan. 13, 1991.
The Soviet Union used military force to overthrow the legitimate government of Lithuania, which declared independence on March 11, 1990.