Rally-cum-riot organizers in court

  • 2009-04-02
  • By Adam Mullett
VILNIUS - Vilnius Second District Court has held a hearing on the rally-cum-riot near the Seimas (Lithuanian parliament) building to determine whether the organizers of the rally were responsible for the outbreak of violence.
The city's police force told the court that protest organizers failed to keep the protesters at least 75 meters from the Seimas building.

The organizers, however, said they had informed the police in advance about the protest and gave an estimate on the amount of protestors expected.
"The whole thing is about the law of meetings 's all the police who investigated the matter gave their opinion that the trade unions violated this law because they didn't stop this meeting before the riot took place. But the chairmen all said that it was the duty of the police to keep the people away from the Seimas," Neringa Sarulyte, the legal adviser of the Lithuanian Labor Federation (LLF), whose chairman is on trial, told The Baltic Times.

It wasn't the responsibility of the trade unions that this distance be kept, she said.
"Their meeting was a peaceful meeting and it wasn't their duty to keep the public back and to stop a riot 's it was the police's job to see that everything goes smoothly," she added.
Solidarity Union Chairperson Aldona Jasinskiene told TBT they did everything required.

"We did everything we could. The action was conducted according to the planned scenario: gathering at the Seimas, then rally on the main street and finally the meeting at the building of the government. We were assured by the police that no riot would take place during the action, but we can see [that] many mistakes were made by the police," said Jasinskiene.

"It was a protest action in which only economic demands were expressed, it was agreed that no politician would be able to make a speech during the action and we kept our promise. The trade unions have been prepared properly, treated the action very seriously and we were acting according to the law," she said.
The court will rule on April 14 on whether to impose an administrative fine between 500 and 2000 litas (145 to 580 euros) on trade union leaders for calling the rally and failing to ensure public order.

Should the court rule against them, the parties have signaled their intention to appeal to higher courts.
Trade union leaders, head of the LLF Vydas Puskepalis, Chairman of Lithuania's Confederation of Trade Unions Arturas Cerniauskas and Jasinskiene, are on trial for violations to the order of meetings and other mass gatherings.

If found guilty, defendants must pay a fine or endure administrative arrest for up to 30 days.
The defendants in the March 31 hearing said the protest rally held near the Seimas in mid January went as planned, passing responsibility for failing to ensure public order onto the police force present at the scene.
The police, in turn, said the defendants didn't undertake all required measures to ensure the rally's peaceful course.

The LLF believes that some political parties in attendance may have heightened tensions with their "radical" approach.
"The trade unions organized a peaceful meeting and they had no intentions for a riot 's there were politically radical forces. There were some political parties such as Frontas who are always seeking to get their way in a radical way," Sarulyte said.

A symbolic protest, led by former Prosecutor General Arturas Paulauskas, took place outside the court in support of the trade union leaders facing trial. The rally drew around 50 people, most of them members of the New Union political party, which is headed by Paulauskas.
After the riots, parliamentary Speaker Arunas Valinskas said that trade union representatives did everything in their power to ensure public order during the rally and are not to blame for causing the riot.

A rally on Jan. 16 called near the Seimas building to protest the government's handling of the financial crisis ended in riots, which left civilians and officers injured, parliament building windows broken and the buildings surroundings damaged. The damages to the immediate area were estimated at 230,000 litas (66,700 euros) with the cost to the whole city estimated at about two million litas.