Inquiry into Lithuanian police action on pro-Tibet demonstrators

Lithuanian police action against a popular author and other pro-Tibet demonstrators during Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s visit to Vilnius on June 16, 2002, has developed into a controversial issue in the country. Lithuanian Interior Minister Juozas Bernatonis has ordered an investigation into the actions by police, according to AFP. The Baltic Times reports that Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus was angered by the police action and had asked for a full account of the incident.

The incident attracted public attention because popular Lithuanian author and Tibetan activist Jurga Ivanauskaite was shown by Lithuanian TV being arrested and thrown into a police van. Lithuanian Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas demanded an investigation, adding that human rights were more important than any other considerations. According to AFP, the Lithuanian police shoved 11 people to the ground and ripped Tibetan flags and banners out of their hands as President Jiang arrived in Vilnius.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin arrived in Vilnius on June 16 and met Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, and Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas on June 17, 2002.

Following is the full text of the Baltic Times report on the incident:

Pro-Tibet Protest Crushed

By Geoffrey Vasiliauskas, VILNIUS

Baltic Times, June 13 to 19, 2002

Dramatic scenes typical of a repressive totalitarian state, showing Lithuanian police violently breaking up a non-violent demonstration, have shocked television viewers and caused widespread dismay.

On the Lithuanian leg of his northern European tour, which takes in the Baltic states and Iceland, Chinese President Jiang Zemin arrived in Vilnius on the afternoon of June 16. A small group of pro-Tibet demonstrators waited for his motorcade outside Vilnius Airport.

The protesters were initially ordered to pull back 50 meters from the road. When police thought they had not gone far enough, they proceeded to grind their faces into the earth and tear up their Tibetan flags.

The Lietuvos Rytas daily reported that journalists were prevented from filming the violent scenes. Only a single digital videocamera captured footage of a uniformed officer using force against a peaceful protester.

LRT, the state television channel, showed several pieces of footage of police surrounding, dragging and pushing people into the dirt with the road to the airport in the background.

The evening news on the state television channel showed the protest being broken up at the airport and another incident near the presidential compound in Vilnius.

Popular Lithuanian author and Tibetan activist Jurga Ivanauskaite was shown being arrested and thrown into a police van. A police officer attempted to hit the camera operator.

Ivanauskaite was shown pressing a Tibetan flag against the inside of the police van window.

“They threw me in the van and refused to tell me what law I had violated. They had absolutely no arguments at all,” Ivanauksaite told The Baltic Times the next day, adding that police said they were only following orders.

Jurga Ivanauskaite is one of Lithuania’s most popular writers and artists. She has written works of fantasy and of her extensive travels in Tibet and Ladakh. Her works are consistently among the best-selling Lithuanian books.

After the incident outside Vilnius Airport, Ivanauskaite said she was warned to go home and stay there, and not to try to stage any protest outside the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, where Jiang Zemin and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus were due to have a banquet.

“I said I’m a free person, and I’ll go anywhere I want,” Ivanauskaite recalled.

She said she was pushed into a police van and held there for two hours along with members of the Falung Gong movement from abroad, who were also not told what the charges against them were.

While the evening news showed footage of Ivanauskaite locked in the police vehicle, a senior police official told the audience Ivanauskaite had not been arrested.

Police refused to comment further on the incident.

“Maybe they’ll try to call it something else, but I was forced into the van and locked up. I don’t know what else you’d call it but an arrest,” said Ivanauskaite.

On the second day of Jiang Zemin’s visit to Lithuania the atmosphere cleared slightly, according to Ivanauskaite. She noted that politicians had apologized for the acts of violence and violation of protesters’ civil rights.

The demonstrators managed to stage a small protest outside the Parliament building on June 17.

For many Vilnius residents, that day held seemingly interminable traffic delays. Police were deployed along the motorcade route, from the out-of-town Le Meridien Hotel to central Vilnius during the morning rush hour.

Many drivers spent hours getting to work, and passengers on buses were prevented from exiting on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year.

In the center of Vilnius police stopped all pedestrian traffic along the motorcade route for several hours in advance.

At the Presidential Palace, Jiang Zemin’s final destination, Lithuanian security personnel said taking photographs and loitering were forbidden “because of security concerns.” Some 200 officers and perhaps 30 vehicles stood tightly packed in front of the palace. Only a handful of students were able to enter nearby Vilnius University through the front gates.

Regular police officers at the scene said they had orders not to allow any protests or disruptions on the order of the president.

Earlier the same morning Lithuanian presidential spokeswoman Violeta Gaizauskaite reported that President Adamkus was angered by Ivanauskaite’s detention and wanted a full account of the incident. Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas likewise demanded an investigation, adding that human rights were more important than any other considerations.

Asked who she thought had issued orders to deal harshly with the protesters, Ivanauskaite admitted she didn’t know, but that she believed the orders had come from top officials.

“What happened is in some ways not a bad thing. A few years ago the press reported about Ivanauskaite and ‘her punks’ protesting for Tibet, which it called an indivisible part of China. That’s starting to change. They’re talking differently now,” she said.

She said the conflict had turned out to be more about Lithuania than Tibet, and that it was raising consciousness.

Asked whether she would take the police to court for their actions, Ivanauskaite said she probably wouldn’t because she wanted nothing more to do with “repressive structures,” and that the police would continue to lie expertly to cover themselves.

An incident at the Lithuanian Parliament on June 17 almost caused Jiang Zemin to cut his visit short. Social Democrat MP Kestutis Krisciunas and Liberal Democrat MP Egidijus Skarbalius went to an official reception for the Chinese delegation carrying small Tibetan flags.

Standing in the lobby of the Parliament building, Krisciunas and Skarbalius refused to drop the issue when a Russian-speaking Chinese security official in military uniform entered the building before the delegation and demanded to know who the people were, and why they were not removed immediately.

Footage broadcast on television showed the Chinese officer rushing toward the MPs as if to arrest them. After cajoling from Paulauskas and his deputy Ceslovas Jursenas – who is known to have on his office desk a nameplate written in Chinese, along with a collection of Communist propaganda posters – Skarbalius and Kriksciunas agreed to withdraw somewhat and to allow Chinese security personnel to stand in front of them and keep them from view when Zemin entered the building.

Even so, Zemin cut short his tour of the Parliament, and a photo-op session with Paulauskas never happened.

Skarbalius is chairman of the Lithuanian parliamentary contact group with Tibet. Kriksciunas is not a member of the group, which is comprised of 13 MPs from across the political spectrum.

On the Dalai Lama’s second visit to Lithuania in July last year, President Valdas Adamkus received him at the Presidential Palace.

 

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