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Debates
Monday, 25 November 2019 - Strasbourg Revised edition

18. Recent actions by the Russian Federation against Lithuanian judges, prosecutors and investigators involved in investigating the tragic events on 13 January 1991 in Vilnius (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  Die Präsidentin. – Als nächster Punkt der Tagesordnung folgt die Aussprache über die Erklärungen des Rates und der Kommission zu den aktuellen Maßnahmen der Russischen Föderation gegen litauische Richter, Staatsanwälte und Ermittler, die an der Untersuchung der tragischen Ereignisse vom 13. Januar 1991 in Vilnius beteiligt waren (2019/2938(RSP)).

Ich darf erneut kurz daran erinnen, dass Anträge auf spontane Wortmeldungen und blaue Karten sowohl mithilfe des herkömmlichen Verfahrens als auch elektronisch gestellt werden können.

 
  
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  Tytti Tuppurainen, President-in-Office of the Council. – Madam President, let me start by underlining that the case that we are discussing here, as reported upon recently in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) by our Lithuanian colleagues, is a matter of great concern to the Council. I understand you will express your concern on the issue in a resolution later this week. We have already discussed this matter at the June session of the Justice and Home Affairs Council earlier this year.

The issue of the possible abuse of Interpol alerts is not new. We all remember the case of journalists with dual nationality who were arrested in 2017 on the basis of Interpol red notices. The issue was regularly raised and discussed at the half-yearly meetings of the EU Justice and Home Affairs senior officials with Interpol, with the aim of exploring possible improvements to the then existing Interpol systems and review mechanisms.

A number of steps have been taken by Interpol since then, including the creation of a dedicated law enforcement task force to review the red notices. Continuous efforts in this direction are of great importance to protect the rights of our citizens, ensuring that an effective redress mechanism is in place to prevent the abuse of red notices for political reasons.

We also have to emphasise that an Interpol red notice alone cannot be the basis for a decision to extradite a person. That decision will still be subject to a judicial review. Inside the EU, this review falls solely within the competence of the Member States. All that said, it’s clear that we must keep monitoring this issue.

The Member States of the EU, when acting together, have a strong voice at Interpol and we should use it to make sure that the system of red notices is used only for its legitimate purpose – that is to help us arrest dangerous criminals, not political opponents.

 
  
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  Věra Jourová, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, thank you for the opportunity to discuss this topic here today. On 12 November, the Lithuanian Minister for Justice spoke in the European Parliament’s Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs about the case. He informed the Committee that Lithuania had already raised its concerns in the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ).

What we see today is that clearly the events that took place in 1991 still have effects in our Union. The Commission expresses its support and solidarity with Lithuania, one of the EU Member States, for the attacks its judiciary has faced from a neighbouring third country. Lithuania has been constantly targeted by Russian disinformation efforts and a wide array of false narratives have been employed to this end. The present case is not an exception. As proven in the work of the EU Strategic Communication Task Force, Kremlin media have been, and continue to be, engaged in a process of historical revisionism. The events of 13 January 1991 have been portrayed by Russian disinformation activities as a conflict between Lithuanians, removing from the picture the crimes committed under the USSR.

Historical revisionism has been a core part of the Russian disinformation activities. The revisionism serves the purpose of discrediting or undermining the Lithuanian statehood sovereignty justice system and rule of law. Any attack against the judiciary of an EU Member State is an attack against the rule of law of the whole European Union. The Lithuanian judges and prosecutors are judges and prosecutors of the European Union. We strongly believe in the importance of letting Lithuania’s justice system conduct its work in full independence.

We need to protect the integrity of our judicial system. The European Commission stands in support of an independent judiciary, without which the Union cannot function. As the Commission underlined in its communication published in July this year on strengthening the rule of law within the EU, upholding the rule of law in the Union is, and must remain, a key objective for all.

 
  
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  Rasa Juknevičienė, on behalf of the PPE Group. – Madam President, we are considering a question that is important and not only for my country. The Russian Federation has opened criminal proceedings against judges and prosecutors of Lithuania – it means, of the European Union.

In January 1991, the Soviet Government used military force in its attempt to remove the legitimate government in Lithuania. As a result of the military aggression, 14 civilians were killed and more than 800 were injured. This year in March, the Lithuanian court passed a judgment. Former Soviet Union officials were found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and of aggression against Lithuania. The Russian Federation did not cooperate in the case. In total, almost 300 legal assistance requests were sent to the Russian institutions. No replies have been received, or requests were rejected.

Criminal proceedings by the Russian Federation against officers who administered justice in this case is the new tool of hybrid warfare against the EU. We understand how the political system is being attacked. We must understand and state openly that we see how the judiciary of the EU is being targeted. Yes, it is another attack on democracy, which is the main target of Putin’s regime. We must send a clear signal from this Parliament that hybrid attacks against EU judiciary will not be tolerated.

Today we have Lithuanian judges and prosecutors who may face politically motivated persecution. Tomorrow it may be another officer, anywhere in the EU, who deals with any case where the Kremlin denies its citizens’ involvement. I invite you, colleagues, to support the resolution. We will vote on it on Thursday.

 
  
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  Juozas Olekas, S&D frakcijos vardu. – Mieli kolegos, įstatymo viršenybė, teismų nepriklausomumas – tai mūsų Europos Parlamento, Europos Sąjungos vertybės. Esu liudininkas tos tragiškos 1991 m. sausio 13-tos nakties sovietų agresijos. Aš tuos beginklius, nukautus ir sužeistus civilius žmonės mačiau, ir kaip gydytojas kai kurios iš jų gydžiau. Po ilgo teismo proceso – ilgo todėl, kad Rusija kaip sovietų teisių perėmėja nebendradarbiavo su Lietuvos teisėsauga – teismui priėmus sprendimą dar vienas Rusijos smūgis mūsų demokratijai – baudžiamosios bylos iškėlimas teisėjams, prokurorams ir tyrėjams. Kas bus sekantis ar Olandijos teisėsauga tirianti MH17 tragedija, ar Jungtinės Karalystės tyrėjai, tiriantys Skripalių apnuodijimo tyrimą? Dabar mūsų momentas, kada turime atsakyti. Europos teismų būti tinklas pateikė savo nuomonę, jie palaiko Europos Sąjungos teisėjus, todėl kviečiu pritarti ir palaikyti pateiktą rezoliuciją.

 
  
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  Petras Auštrevičius, Renew frakcijos vardu. – Posėdžio Pirmininke, gerbiama Suomijos atstove, Komisijos atstove, kolegos, praėjus beveik 30-čiai metų po Lietuvos išsivadavimo iš Sovietų Sąjungos okupacijos gniaužtų jaunoji Lietuvos piliečių karta yra nepatyrusi gyvenimo nelaisvėje. Tačiau ši karta puikiai žino Lietuvos kelią į laisvę ir nepriklausomybę, o svarbiausia – laisvės kainą. Kiekvieną sausio 13-osios rytą pamokos Lietuvos mokyklose pradedamos uždegant atminimo žvakutes pagerbiant tuos, kurie 1991 m. sausį beginkliai ryžtingai stojo prieš Sovietų tankus. Tuomet netekome 14-kos laisvės gynėjų, šimtai buvo sužeisti. Tarp žuvusių du vos 17-kos metų amžiaus jaunuoliai – Darius ir Ignas. Jų ir kitų žuvusiųjų šeimos ir artimieji ilgus metus laukė istorinio teisingumo. Deja, didžioji dauguma nuteistų kaltininkų slapstosi Rusijoje ir Baltarusijoje. Apgailėtina, kad praėjus trisdešimčiai metų po Sausio 13-osios, turėdami Lietuvos teismo sprendimą, mes vėl pajutome Rusijos valdžios klastingas pastangas diskredituoti laisvės gynėjus ir persekioti juos apgynusius. Kviečiu Jus politinio solidarumo veiksmui, kadangi Rusijos persekiojamų Lietuvos teisėjų, prokurorų ir tyrėjų istorija gali lengvai atsikartoti kitose Europos demokratinėse valstybėse, jiems priimant sprendimus dėl demokratijos ir laisvių gynimo.

 
  
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  Bronis Ropė, Verts/ALE frakcijos vardu. – Ačiū, gerbiama Pirmininke, gerbiama ministre, Komisare, kolegos. Apgailėtina – taip vienu žodžiu būtų galima nusakyti Rusijos Federacijos veiksmus, nutaikytus prieš Lietuvos teisėsauga. Kremlius taip įprato manipuliuoti Rusijos teisine sistema, kad negali suvokti, jog teismai demokratinėse valstybėse yra nepriklausomi. Putino valdoma Rusija ne tik nesiteikė padėti ištirti sausio 13-osios nusikaltimus, bet priešingai, pamina teisės viršenybės principą ir ieško įrankių, kuriais galėtų skleisti dezinformacija. Šis išpuolis yra išpuolis prieš visus demokratiškų šalių teisėjus ir privalo būti griežtai pasmerktas. Jei tylėsime, kursime iliuziją, kad Kremlius gali ir toliau imtis manipuliacijų ir bandyti daryti įtaką mūsų šalių teisinėms sistemoms. Tikiuosi, kad balsuodami dėl rezoliucijos, pasiųsime aišku ir ne dviprasmišką signalą Kremliui, jog tokie politiškai motyvuoti išpuoliai yra netoleruotini.

 
  
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  Anna Fotyga, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Madam President, I stand by Lithuanians. I pay tribute to the courage of the Lithuanian judges giving the ruling in the 13 January case. It was the most thorough investigation and court proceedings in Lithuanian history. Fourteen people killed; innocent people killed; more than 800 heavily wounded. It was a war crime and a crime against humanity and a Russian probe against both the prosecutors and the judges is absolutely unacceptable. We have to support Lithuania strongly in this case.

 
  
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  Andrius Kubilius (PPE). – Madam President, being also Lithuanian, I would like to stress that this is not a purely Lithuanian issue. It is an EU-wide issue because all of us are facing the same new challenge. Our rule of law systems can be attacked openly by the Russian Federation and this is an attack against basic EU values.

The Kremlin wants to test the capability of the EU to defend its rule of law system against an open attack. It’s not a secret interference like they do in our elections. It’s an open attack, which demands an open and direct response from this Parliament. If we fail to give such a response we shall, of course, be inviting the Kremlin to use the same attack against other EU Member States.

So I’m grateful to the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council that all of them are standing strong in the defence of the European value of the rule of law, even if only one, Lithuania, is being attacked for the time being. It reminds me of 1989 when we were repeating to our neighbours, ‘for your freedom and our freedom’.

 
  
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  Evin Incir (S&D). – Fru talman! Rättsstatsprincipen är grunden i varje modern demokrati. Den är också en av EU:s grundprinciper. Det är emellertid inte bara inom EU:s regelverk som rättsstaten har en grundläggande roll, utan även vid sidan av demokratin och de mänskliga rättigheterna utgör rättsstatsprincipen en av Europarådets tre stöttepelare och räknas uttryckligen upp i ingressen till Europakonventionen, som även Ryssland har skrivit under.

Det ryska agerandet mot de litauiska domare, utredare och åklagare som varit aktiva i rättsprocessen kring de tragiska händelserna den 13 januari 1991 strider mot rättsstatsprincipen och normerna för internationellt samarbete. Det ger också upphov till allvarliga frågetecken kring det ryska rättsväsendets oberoende. Den ryska regeringen och dess president Putin visar återigen att den inte skyr att använda sig av auktoritära medel för att uppnå sina mål, i och utanför Ryssland, som i detta fall i Litauen.

Vi måste fortsätta att trycka på så att den ryska regeringen och ryska myndigheter respekterar rättsstatens principer och slutar upp med att använda domstolar för politiska påtryckningar.

 
  
 

Spontane Wortmeldungen

 
  
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  Jiří Pospíšil (PPE). – Paní předsedající, jako bývalý ministr spravedlnosti České republiky chci vyjádřit solidaritu s litevskými soudci a státními zástupci. Útok na litevskou justici je útok na evropskou justici. Je správné – a děkuji orgánům Evropské unie –, že takto jasně jednáme. Je třeba přijmout jasné politické odsouzení tohoto ruského útoku. Je třeba, aby Komise při svých jednáních s Ruskem toto jasně zdůraznila, že to je útok na nás, na Evropany, na Evropskou unii. Ale hlavně je třeba, aby v rámci Interpolu ministři spravedlnosti a ministři vnitra členských států Evropské unie dělali vše pro to, aby principy mezinárodního zatykače nemohly být zneužívány. To je téma, které se debatuje na úrovni evropských ministrů vnitra a spravedlnosti již delší dobu a teď v této kauze je to opět vidět. Dělejme maximum pro to, aby snaha postihnout mezinárodní trestnou činnost skrze eurozatykač nebyla zneužívána ke stíhání politicky motivovaných osob a k tomuto zneužívání.

 
  
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  Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D). – Madam President, I am standing here as former Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Spain, but also as current Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of this European Parliament in which the Lithuanian Minister of Justice presented the case not only of harassment, but prosecution against judges and public prosecutors. And believe me, there is a strong majority in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs which stands for fundamental rights, democracy, rule of law, and values and principles, in which the independence of the judiciary, impartial judges and autonomy of public prosecutors are an outstanding principle – a founding principle of the very foundation of the European Union.

That is why I think we must care about these judges and public prosecutors being prosecuted for having fulfilled their jurisdictional role, which is completely unacceptable. We stand by the Lithuanian judges as we stand by European values and founding principles.

 
  
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  Billy Kelleher (Renew). – Madam President, I also stand in solidarity with the Lithuanian people and the judiciary and the prosecutors. An attack on the independence and integrity of the prosecutorial roles of any democratic state in the European Union is an attack on our basic fundamental principles and freedoms. I remember in 1989, it was a huge historic moment in the context of the Berlin Wall falling, coming down, and the hope and aspirations of millions of people on the eastern side of that wall being fulfilled. But the idea that we now can have the Russian Federation intimidating and threatening a judiciary which went about its lawful duty in 1991, in the context of shooting of innocent civilians, is an outrageous attack and it does indicate that we must be forever vigilant in ensuring the rule of law is upheld and we must never be afraid to call it out, even if it is when threatening neighbours and bigger countries are trying to bulldoze and bully smaller countries. I want to stand here in solidarity with the Lithuanian people, my colleagues in this Parliament, but, as importantly, with the rule of law across the entire continent. It must be supported and upheld.

 
  
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  Stanislav Polčák (PPE). – Paní předsedající, i já bych chtěl vyjádřit hlubokou solidaritu jak našemu členskému státu Litvě, tak samozřejmě jeho institucím a občanům. Zároveň bych chtěl říci, že tato kauza má pro mě dvě roviny. Jedna je otázka zneužití mezinárodního trestního práva, resp. tedy práva, které jej spojuje s Interpolem, a zadruhé je to pro mě rovněž významný další test ze strany Ruské federace, kam až může zajít. Já bych zde chtěl poděkovat paní komisařce, protože myslím, že pojmenovala obě dvě stránky zcela jasně. Je jednoznačné, že musí dojít k jasnému obrácení se celé Evropské unie na orgány Interpolu, aby toto zneužívání přestalo, a zadruhé, musíme se bránit i šíření fake news a revizionismu, který je některými médii šířen. Myslím si, že demokracie se musí bránit. A je důležité, aby média, která těmto dezinformacím podléhají, resp. je šíří, tak aby při opakovaném zneužití tohoto systému prostě následovala jasná sankce. Máme svobodu slova, ale i ta má hranice.

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D). – Ačiū, Pirmininke, Komisare, Ministre, kolegos. Tragiški 1991-ųjų sausio 13 d. įvykiai paženklino Lietuvos istoriją Lietuvos žmonių krauju ir netektimis. Tai mūsų tautos sumokėta kaina už laisvę ir išsivadavimą iš prievartinės sovietinės okupacijos. Sausio 13-osios byloje už karo nusikaltimus, už nusikaltimus žmogiškumui nuteisti asmenys, kurie dalyvavo surengtoje agresijoje Lietuvoje. Todėl Rusijos veiksmai, kuriais siekiama pradėti baudžiamojo persekiojimo bylą nagrinėjusiems teisėjams, prokurorams, tyrėjams, yra dar vienas tiesioginis bandymas perrašyti istoriją ir paneigti karo nusikaltimus, kurie buvo įvykdyti Lietuvoje. Tai yra nepateisinamas kišimasis į nepriklausomos Europos Sąjungos šalies teisminę nepriklausomybę ir akivaizdus bandymas kompromituoti teisės viršenybės principą. Europos Sąjunga turi pademonstruoti solidarumą su Lietuva ir užtikrinti, kad neteisėti Rusijos veiksmai nepažeistų esminių Europos Sąjungos principų bei užkirsti kelią bet kokiems neteisėtam Rusijos bandymams kompromituoti Europos Sąjungos šalies teisminės sistemos nepriklausomumą.

 
  
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  Liudas Mažylis (PPE). – Madam President, I assume the nowadays behaviour of Russia is one beyond any limits. It brutally touches European values such as rule of law and an independent judiciary. Moreover, the intent to use international institutions such as Interpol for prosecuting independent judges. Just to remind you of the tragic events of January 1991, it was carefully planned military Soviet aggression against the newly established Lithuania which led to loss of lives and hundreds injured. Now, after almost three decades, already independent judiciary is a target. It is unacceptable and I invite you to support the resolution and to vote in favour of it.

 
  
 

(Ende der spontanen Wortmeldungen)

 
  
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  Věra Jourová, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, I would like to repeat in this place again that the Commission expresses its support and solidarity with Lithuania whose judiciary has faced attacks from a neighbouring third country. As has rightly been said here, it is not only a threat against Lithuanian judges and prosecutors, it is not just not only an attack against Lithuania, it’s an attack against the European Union because also the Lithuanian judges and prosecutors are European ones.

The discussions here today underline once more the importance of the work we are undertaking on the protection of the rule of law within our Union. You mentioned here also the aspect of disinformation distributed by the pro-Kremlin media. I can confirm that the new Commission will work intensively on the Action Plan on Democracy, which contains a chapter related to the fight against disinformation and fake news, where I plan to come with proportionate and necessary measures to fight effectively against the disinformation which is considered to be a part of hybrid threats against the EU.

Today’s discussions remind us that we, as a Union, must remain vigilant regarding any undue attack from foreign countries on our citizens, on our elections, on our democracy. So once again, I very much welcome that this Chamber will discuss this issue and I want to thank you for the possibility to take part in the debate here.

 
  
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  Tytti Tuppurainen, President-in-Office of the Council. – Madam President, I listened attentively to this exchange of views and to the concerns expressed.

Let me say that the Lithuanian case is our common case. The Finnish Presidency is committed to the rule of law. We are committed to monitoring this important topic and we shall make sure that it is regularly addressed, in particular during EU meetings of senior officials with Interpol. The Presidency stands ready to explore, with Interpol, what support the EU and the Member States can deliver to avoid possible abuses, and is ready to inform the European Parliament on the outcome of these discussions.

I would also like to thank you very warmly for this very topical and important debate.

 
  
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  Die Präsidentin. – Die Aussprache ist geschlossen.

Die Abstimmung findet am Donnerstag, 28. November 2019, statt.

 
Last updated: 3 March 2020Legal notice - Privacy policy