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23rd Feb 2019

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Lithuanian parliament protects anti-gay MPs from prosecution

  • Lithuanian anti-gay MPs are to remain immune from prosecution (Photo: wikipedia)

The Lithuanian parliament has voted to protect from prosecution two MPs implicated in violence directed towards a gay-pride parade.

In June this year, the country's prosecutor general requested that the parliament strip Kazimieras Uoka of the centre-right Homeland Union and Christian Democrats, Lithuania's largest political party, and Petras Gražulis, of the Order and Justice Party, a self-declared liberal party but sharply opposed to gay rights, of their parliamentary immunity after they were accused of violent scuffles with police protecting the pride demonstrators.

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As MPs in the country have immunity from prosecution, it requires a vote in the Seimas, the country's parliament to give its assent before any prosecution can proceed against a national deputy.

According to individuals familiar with the case who spoke to EUobserver, in May the two MPs crossed police barriers and disobeyed orders from authorities to remain within a zone allocated to what turned out to be a thousands-strong anti-pride demonstration. At which point the deputies participated in violent scuffles with police and kicked an activist from the Tolerant Youth Association, which had helped organise the event.

The gay rights march, numbering between 300 and 500 people and including several MEPs and government ministers from other EU states, was nevertheless dwarfed by its opponents, say witnesses.

An analysis of information on the event by the prosecutor general drew the conclusion that there is a sufficient basis for believing the actions of the two MPs to be in violation of administrative and criminal law.

The pride march provoked an outburst of violence from opponents. Police fired tear gas to disperse some 2,000 counter demonstrators after they threw rocks, bottles and fireworks at participants.

The anti-pride protesters hurled abuse at the marchers, shouting "down with the homo-Nazis". Earlier in the day, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Tolerant Youth Association building.

A total of 19 anti-pride demonstrators were arrested.

However, on 19 October, the Seimus rejected 56 to 35 the prosecutor general's request for a lifting of immunity.

The two MPs told a parliamentary commission of inquiry that their actions were taken in defence of Lithuanian values expressed in the constitution.

European human rights campaigners told this website that the country has one of the worst records in the EU when it comes to the state of gay and lesbian equality.

"Poland often gets quite a bad reputation, but the situation in Lithuania is pretty, pretty bad," Juris Lavrikovs, spokesman for the International Gay and Lesbian Association - Europe, said.

"The situation varies across the Baltics," he continued. "Under Communism, Estonia has free access to Finnish television, so gay rights was less of a new idea and they quickly adapted themselves to the values of the global village when democracy came, while Latvia, there are still problems, but the discourse is changing. The prime minister has said he supports registered parnerships [for gays and lesbians]. It's also more Protestant-oriented, while in Lithuania, the Catholic Church is deeply rooted in the country."

The pride march was banned in 2007 and 2008 and again in 2010 until Lithuania's top court overturned a lower court's suspension of the event after the European Commission wrote to the government expressing its concern at the situation.

Last week, an amendment of the country's 'Law on the Provision of Information' that bans audiovisual communication and advertising 'promoting sexual orientation' came into effect.

Literature on gay rights, health information, or even night-club advertising could be outlawed by the change, worry campaigners.

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