Since 2008, Lithuanian judge and parliamentarian Neringa Venckiene has been seeking justice for her young niece, who was allegedly sexually molested by two Lithuanian government officials. Despite a court ruling that there was enough evidence to indict the child’s mother for facilitating the molestation, the niece was taken from Judge Venckiene and returned to the mother’s care, preventing the girl from testifying further in an ongoing trial against her alleged abusers.
In 2013, Judge Venckiene fled Lithuania to seek political asylum in the United States, fearing retribution not only for her efforts to protect her niece but also for her leadership in a new anti-corruption political party. Lithuanian prosecutors have charged Judge Venckiene with at least 35 crimes, ranging from petitioning the court on her niece’s behalf, to speaking to journalists about the case, to bruising an officer during her struggle to keep her niece from being returned to the accused mother.
Five years after arriving in the United States, Judge Venckiene’s political asylum case has still not been heard, but U.S. authorities are moving to extradite her under the U.S.-Lithuania extradition treaty for bruising the officer who was returning the girl to the accused mother during the trial. The hearing explored the limits of extradition among allies, especially when charges appear politically motivated.
Witnesses discussed the evidence of political motivation, including statements made publicly by the recent Chairman of the Lithuanian Supreme Court calling Judge Venckiene “an abscess in the judicial and the political system,” and “the trouble of the whole state.” Several witnesses argued forcefully that these and other actions by Lithuanian authorities demonstrate blatant political motivation. Dr. Vytautas Matulevicius, a member of the Seimas from 2012 to 2016 for the anti-corruption political party led by Judge Venckiene said, “…[T]he case of N. Venckienė itself can be regarded as a typical recurrence of the Soviet legal system—a person who talks too much about the crimes of influential people can be turned into a criminal herself.” Human rights litigator Abbe Jolles calling Judge Venckiene’s extradition to a system with “no chance of a fair trial” a “likely death sentence.”
The hearing examined other lenses through which to view the legal case for extradition. Law Professor Mary Leary explored the definitions of human trafficking established by Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-386) and by the Palermo Protocol. She advised that [as has been alleged], “if evidence exists that the abusers provided financial and other benefits to the mother of the child victim, this child sexual abuse could also implicate child sex trafficking.”
Concerns were also raised about the humanitarian standards of the Lithuanian prison system. As Ms. Jolles noted, several countries have previously refused Lithuanian extradition requests over concerns of unacceptable conditions and the possibility of torture. In addition, the United States cited Lithuania in a 2017 report for prison conditions below international standards.
The litany of charges against Judge Venckiene that have been added and subtracted was also considered. In particular, the legitimacy of the charge of assaulting a police officer during the seizure of her niece was questioned. It remains unclear why Lithuanian prosecutors did not arrest Judge Venckiene while she was living in Lithuania for a year after the alleged assault, or why they would have allowed an alleged felon to immigrate to the United States and reside there for over two years before eventually filing for her extradition. This, again, suggested the possibility of political motivation behind the charges.
The Government of Lithuania was invited to participate in the hearing, or to suggest a witness to represent its perspective, but declined. Instead, the Embassy of Lithuania provided a written statement.