State security agents detain journalist, spark major political backlash

  • 2006-09-13
  • By TBT staff

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS? All eyes are on Pocius to save the State Security Department's reputation.

VILNIUS - Lithuania's State Security Department came under attack last week after detaining a journalist for procuring and intending to publish state secrets. Both the president and journalists decried the move as a violation of the freedom of the press, and several MPs have taken the department's top officials to task. The department, meanwhile, has launched an investigation into the leak, and journalists have reported that a security officer is currently under suspicion.

"This investigation is aimed at prosecuting the person who has unlawfully revealed classified information available to the person," a spokesman for the State Security Department said on Sept. 8. The department stressed that the investigation was being conducted independently from an in-house probe into possible leaks in the department, the country's chief security agency.

Aurimas Drizius, editor and publisher of the Laisvas Laikrastis newspaper, was detained on Sept. 7 for unlawful possession of classified information by State Security Department officers.
In addition, the State Security Department shut down the newspaper's Web site and confiscated the entire print-run of the paper that was due to hit newsstands Sept. 8.
However, the Prosecutor General's Office decided the next day not to impose penalties on Drizius and instead set him free. Saulius Duzinskas, a state prosecutor, said the unlawful possession of secret state information was not considered a major offense, and there was no reason to think that the detainee would flee and so was let go.

It is not clear what exactly the information contained, though the media has speculated that Laisvas Laikrastis was about to run a story implicating the State Security Department in the recent death of a Lithuanian diplomat in Belarus.
President Valdas Adamkus decried the arrest, saying it was a brazen blow to the free press.
"These are explosive actions, which run against the main principles of democracy. I have always supported free press and free speech and will continue to in the future," the president told journalists.
Adamkus demanded that guilty department leaders take due responsibility. "First of all, we are all equal before the law 's me, the press and the officials 's so they will have to answer for their actions before society and before me personally," said the president.

The Lithuanian Journalists' Union dismissed the closure of Laisvas Laikrastis as censorship. Union president Dainius Radzevicius told the Baltic News Service that "the opinion of the majority of the board is that pretrial investigations into possible leaks of information from institutions bound to protect them should not transform into censorship of specific editorial offices or journalists in a democratic state. We see this as censorship."
The State Security Department announced on Sept. 8 that it had launched an in-house investigation to determine who could have disclosed state secrets. The probe will be carried out by the department's immunity service, a spokesman for the State Security Department, Vytautas Makauskas, said.

But politicians want blood. Parliamentary opposition leader Andrius Kubilius described the situation within the State Security Department as "highly nervous and absolutely inadequate to what it should be."
Kubilius met with Arvydas Pocius, the department's director general, on Sept. 8 to inquire about the department's leadership in handling the crisis.
"Obviously, piles of information or opinions reach the media from State Security Department corridors, which contributes to the anxious environment," Kubilius said.
He added that Pocius already pledged to handle the situation, explaining that the department had yet to cope with the leak of information by former or existing officials.

Kubilius, leader of Homeland Union (Conservatives), restated that the State Security Department had been acting in an inadequate manner.
He said the detention of a journalist was a mistake.
"This was truly unnecessary because such political actions have poor consequences, I dare to say. Laisvas Laikrastis is becoming excessively important, just as the journalist's role is gaining heroic characteristics, which was hardly necessary, and thirdly 's the State Security Department made an impression of trying to stop information about corruption on the top-level political arena," said Kubilius.

In his words, the State Security Department can only do one thing - immediately deliver the above-mentioned secret report to Parliament for MPs to study.
Finally, on Sept. 12 Adamkus urged the public to refrain from excessive emotions while evaluating the State Security Department's work.

"Let's consider the situation seriously, without emotion. I know that there might have been irresponsible moves in the department's decisions, but let's act rationally. There are responsible institutions, there is Parliament, which should take over control and speed up necessary reforms," Adamkus told reporters.
Asked why he did not demand Pocius' resignation, the president responded: "Why should I demand something?"
Pocius told the Lietuvos Rytas daily that, as far as his resignation was concerned, he would heed the opinion of only one person, the president. "I have no intention to resign. I believe leaving the department now would be an irresponsible move," Pocius has said.