Vilnius Court Determines Penalty for Violating the Right to Asylum

The Vilnius City District Court determined the financial penalty for violating the right to asylum - one that Lithuania will have to pay to two minors who, having fled Afghanistan, were illegally detained and held in the Lukiškės prison.

The Vilnius City District Court, in its judgment in the case involving the compensation of damages suffered by two citizens of Afghanistan due to their illegal detention, held today that the State of Lithuania was in error. As a result, the state was held liable to compensate the Afghans for the loss suffered, estimated by the court to be 21,900 litas (about 6342 euro).

The Human Rights Monitoring Institute and the Lithuanian Red Cross Society, acting together in the name of the Afghans, brought the matter to the court's attention on November 26, 2013. The citizens of Afghanistan, who claimed they were only 14 and 17 years old, were apprehended by the officers of the State Border Guard Service on the 4th of April in the Ignalina district after they had crossed the Lithuanian border together.

These young people were fleeing war-torn Afghanistan and applied for asylum in Lithuania. Even though both national and international law requires that asylum seekers be exempt from criminal liability for illegal border crossing, Lithuania did not follow this rule. A pre-trial investigation was started and both minors were ordered to be detained, spending three months locked up in the Lukiškės Remand Prison together with grown men - enduring humiliation, insults and a number of other human rights violations.

"This is not the first time that Lithuania prosecutes refugees coming into the country. However, this is the first case to find the State of Lithuania guilty of the improper application of the right to asylum and for violating human rights - requiring the state to compensate the loss caused by its actions. If the asylum system in Lithuania does not begin to function properly, it is very likely that the number of such cases in Lithuania will only continue to grow," said Jūratė Guzevičiūtė, the Legal Director at HRMI.

This case also highlights another relevant problem - the practice of abusing detention as a measure of restraint in Lithuania. Lithuanian courts are very willing to apply this measure, which is tantamount to a prison sentence - as much as 95% of the prosecution's requests for detention are granted.

In Lithuania, decisions pertaining to detention are often "rubber stamped" without due regard for the unique situation of the person in question, his vulnerabilities and other circumstances. "Just like so, the young people in this instance were confined to the Lukiškės prison without considering all factual and legal circumstances. Even though they were found guilty at first, in the end, thanks to the effective legal defence mounted by the Red Cross, they were acquitted by the court. This means that the youths were detained illegally for more than three months," said Jūratė Guzevičiūtė, the Legal Director at HRMI.