Suspects arrested in Vilnius hate crime

In the aftermath of the nationalist assault of an Ecuadorean immigrant, pressure mounts for the culprits to be prosecuted.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Suspects arrested in Vilnius hate crime - NewsMavens
Fabian Sanchez. Twitter

Why this story matters:

When Fabian Sanchez, originally from Ecuador, made Vilnius his home, he did not expect to be beaten up by thugs shouting "Lithuania for Lithuanians." But neither did he expect, as he now says in numerous TV interviews, that his case will become somewhat of a breakthrough in response to hate crime.

Shortly after the attack, the police announced that he chose not to report the crime, which the victim denied. According to police sources, he declined medical help and did not report what the attackers were shouting at him. It later turned out that misunderstandings resulted from a language barrier, and officers admitted that the racist motives had been reported.

After pressure from human rights groups, politicians and the general public, misunderstandings were cleared. Police forces apologized on Facebook, and two suspects were arrested.

Of late, Lithuanian police has been endeavoring to improve its practices and image. For example, as reported in NewsMavens last week, after years of slow progress in investigating less obvious sexual crimes, they arrested an infamous pick-up artist and scam photographer.

Context of the story

  • Fabian Sanchez, a vlogger, activist and DJ, was beaten up on 19 July on a street in Vilnius.
  • Human rights groups and Liberal Youth, a youth wing of the Liberal party, organised a protest a week after with participation of liberal city council members and the mayor himself.
  • Following a public outcry, an investigation moved forward and two suspects, 26- and 18-year-old football fans, were arrested. Reportedly, they shouted "Lithuania for Lithuanians" even at court, although one of them is Polish-speaking. The man has already been convicted for incitement to hatred and disturbance of public order. His lawyer says the suspect pleads guilty and says he 'acted in hot blood'. The youngster, still a pupil, had previously been charged with causing slight injury and various offenses.
  • Last year, a pregnant Lithuanian woman and her Indian husband suffered in the hands of a violent gang, and only when the case reached the court of appeals was it classed as a hate crime.
  • One of the most infamous racist crimes occurred in 2008, when a female army volunteer violently attacked a popular South African-born singer Berneen Candice Naidoo-Čereška. The perpetrator was sentenced to 43 days in prison. That same year, nationalist youth famously marched on the main street in Vilnius shouting various divisive slogans, including "Juden raus" and "Lithuania is beautiful without Russians". After a public outcry, the slogans were toned down and in subsequent years, nationalist youth stuck to "Lithuania for Lithuanians."
  • Looking at comparative statistics, it seems that Lithuania has no issue with hate crime. However, human rights groups urge us not to be deceived by low reporting rates. According to the EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights, Lithuanian police has a section in a crime reporting form to indicate hate crime motivation, but lacks a flagging system and specific instructions. According to official crime statistics, there were 17 hate crimes recorded in 2017 and 47 in 2016 (including hate speech) - far fewer compared to the spike in 2011, when 328 crimes were recorded."The [recorded] decrease in cases of incitement is unrealistic and shows the latency of incitement to hate and other hate crimes," says Birutė Sabatauskaitė, director of the Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights.
  • Meanwhile, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has a different dataset, which shows that 20 crimes were recorded by the police, 16 of them with a racist motivation, six of them were prosecuted and seven perpetrators were sentenced. A closer look reveals that 16 of the recorded cases were crimes of incitement, most probably online, which are easy to trace and, with proper legislation in place, can be effectively prosecuted. Not a single one of them was a violent crime against an individual.
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