KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 11 July 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
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LITHUANIA: PROPERTY CONFISCATION - LUTHERANS AND
MUNICIPALITY TO APPEAL. More than a week after a court decision
upholding the confiscation of four church-owned properties, the Evangelical
Lutheran parish in Vilnius is still awaiting an official copy of the ruling, the
pastor's wife told Keston News Service on 10 July. The parish will appeal to
the Supreme Court. An official of the government institution in Vilnius
county insisted to Keston that the municipality's decision to restore these
properties to the Lutherans in the early 1990s `was a violation of the
property rights of the residents'. She admitted that the property had belonged
to the Lutheran church before 1945, but could not explain why the parish
was not therefore entitled to continue to own it.

LITHUANIA: PROPERTY CONFISCATION - LUTHERANS AND
MUNICIPALITY TO APPEAL

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

More than a week after a court decision upholding the confiscation of four
church-owned properties, the Evangelical Lutheran parish in the Lithuanian
capital Vilnius is still awaiting an official copy of the ruling, the pastor's
wife Vilma Sabutis told Keston News Service from Vilnius on 10 July. She
confirmed that the parish will appeal to the Supreme Court as soon as it
receives the text of the decision, which was issued on 2 July, though she said
the parish had `very little hope' of a successful legal challenge. An official of
the government institution in Vilnius county insisted to Keston on 10 July
that the municipality's decision to restore these properties to the Lutherans in
the early 1990s `was a violation of the property rights of the residents'. She
declined to speculate whether the government would have moved to
confiscate such properties had they belonged to the Catholic or Jewish faiths.
`I don't know how to answer that,' she said. `Maybe not.'

The government institution lodged a request back in 1996 to revoke the
municipality's restitution of the church-owned properties. Proceedings
finally reached Vilnius district court on 18 April, when a hearing ruled to
confiscate them (see KNS 27 April 2001). Although it was only a third party
in the case, the Lutheran parish appealed against the verdict.

The appeal court heard the case on 25 June, but did not issue its verdict until
2 July. In its decision, the appeal court rejected the Lutheran parish's appeal
for the district court judgment to be overturned and upheld the district court
ruling. The appeal court argued that the parish's appeal to have the case re-
heard was `not sufficiently motivated'. The parish now has three months to
lodge the appeal at the Supreme Court.

Vilda Drasutaviciute, an official of the government institution in Vilnius
county, admitted that it had been her institution - as the body that supervises
the compliance of local authorities with legislation and the constitution -
which had originally brought the suit to revoke the restitution order. `Our
institution takes responsibility for its actions,' she told Keston from Vilnius
on 10 July. (Neither the Lutherans nor city officials Keston spoke with had
been able to discover which government agency had initiated the court
action. `I tried to find out but it was impossible,' Sabutis told Keston.)
However, Drasutaviciute said the institution's chief, Gintautas Gakimavicius,
was not available as he is on holiday. It was his predecessor, she said, who
had decided to initiate the action.

Church members feel the municipality should have done more to defend
their rights. `Vilnius municipality (the respondent!) made no efforts to
complain about the 18 April court decision,' church council member Kestutis
Pulokas complained to Keston on 3 July. `We may only assume that the
municipality considers church property confiscation beneficial.'

Despite such claims that the Vilnius city municipality had failed to support
the parish, city officials told Keston the municipality did support the
Lutheran position. In a written statement of 4 July, the legal department of
the property rights department of the municipality insisted that its 1993
decision to restore these properties to the church had been legal, based as it
was on a February 1990 law on restitution of places of worship and other
buildings to religious communities. `Vilnius City Municipality supported the
[25 June] appeal of the Vilnius Evangelical Lutheran Church,' the statement
from the department chief Egidijus Vilkickas declared. Citing Article 23 of
the Constitution on the inviolability of property, Vilkickas declared that the
municipality `supports the rights of the Vilnius Evangelical Lutheran Church
to restore their nationalised or otherwise unlawfully seized property' and
would be appealing to the Supreme Court.

However, Drasutaviciute told Keston that the 1990 property restitution law
had only a `declaratory' nature. She insisted that the legal case was against
the municipality, not against the Lutherans. `The municipality had taken
action which was not in compliance with the law. The government
institution decided to take action.' She admitted that the property had
belonged to the Lutheran church before 1945, but could not explain why the
parish was not therefore entitled to continue to own it. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.