Unlocking the truth about Lithuania’s secret prisons

By Danny Vannucchi and May Carolan, with Amnesty International’s team in Vilnius

We arrived in Vilnius on Tuesday to launch a new report on secret prisons in Lithuania.

We had been preparing for this launch for many months. Since March we have been asking Amnesty International activists around the world to add their name to a global petition, asking the Lithuanian authorities to reopen an investigation into the country’s role in the US-led secret prison and rendition programme.

Rather than compiling a normal list of signatures, we asked people to sign their names to a closed padlock, representing the lack of accountability and the fact that only Lithuania itself can “unlock” the truth.

Although we arrived on Tuesday, the 2,000 locks we collected had already reached Vilnius by post the day before. Later in the week, as our colleagues held a press conference to discuss the report’s findings and outstanding lines of enquiry for the Prosecutor General, we headed to Kudirkos Square in the centre of Vilnius.

We set to work building our own “prison” in the square. Setting up a huge cage outside a government building is not easy, especially when you need to attach 2,000 locks to its bars, each with a personalized tag! Luckily we managed this with the help of several local volunteers and some unexpected sunshine!

“What, secret prisons, in Lithuania?” asked 80-year-old Milda as she took a closer look at the cage.

Yes! In fact, Lithuania’s government was the first in Europe to confess it had hosted clandestine CIA detention centres. Secret prisons, like the ones found in Lithuania, were set up by the USA to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects after 9/11. Milda was surprised, but happy that we were there to lend support. As she signed a tag to add to the cage, she told us “thank you for caring”.

Not everyone was as keen to sign their name. Some were intrigued by this unusual action, but only took away the informative leaflet. Hopefully after reading about the situation and seeing the event on television, they will feel differently.

At 12 noon, the press conference ended and we were joined by the panel, which included the report’s author Julia Hall and representatives of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, a local NGO who were our key partners and integral to whole event.

With journalists, passers by and photographers clicking away, Julia held the report high and exclaimed, “Accountability now! Unlock the truth on secret prisons in Lithuania!”

After a great day and a successful trip, we say “Watch out Europe!” Other countries like Romania and Poland have also hosted secret prisons. We won’t let you get away with it!

Read more:

Lithuania: Re-open secret prison investigation now (Press release, 29 September 2011)Lithuania: Unlock the truth in Lithuania: Investigate secret prisons now (Report, 29 September 2011)