Lithuania Violates Inmate’s Right to Internet Access for Studying

January 18, 2017

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Lithuania violated a man’s right to information when authorities at the Pravieniškės Correctional Home refused to grant him online access for study purposes.

All Mr. Jankovskis, an inmate at the Pravieniškės Correctional Home, wanted to do was access AIKOS, a website run by the Ministry of Education and Science with info on various study programs.

The inmate wanted to see his options for pursuing a law degree via distance learning. Unfortunately, the facility’s authorities refused to grant him access, claiming that “[i]f prisoners had the right to use the internet, they would be able to continue their criminal activities.” This view was upheld by the Lithuanian courts.

Is Internet access a human right?

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) stressed that the position of the Lithuanian authorities was unreasonable.

In the court’s view, Jankovskis sought information on degrees that would assist in his rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The site in question was run by the Ministry of Education and Science, and as such was not a security risk. At the same time, the prison’s authorities did not even consider granting Jankovskis at least partial access to this one website.

The Strasbourg court noted that there is growing recognition of the importance of the Internet for the enjoyment of a range of human rights, and that Internet access is increasingly understood as a right.

The court believed that these changes reflected the importance of the Internet in everyday life, especially given that some information was only available online.

This is not the first time that the ECtHR had to rule on the right to Internet access – in the case of Kalda v. Estonia (2016), the court found that Estonia violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights by not granting a prisoner access to the online Gazette (repository of legislation) and an online database of court decisions.

Changing the approach to rehabilitation

Both these cases show that the ECtHR attaches great importance to the rehabilitative aspect of punishment, which can also be found in the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania. The Code states that penalties are meant to not only punish offenders and limit their rights, but to also “exert an influence on the persons who have served their sentence to ensure that they comply with laws and do not relapse into crime.”

This necessitates the state taking active steps to modernize correctional facility and prison infrastructure as well as a shift in approach when dealing with inmates and their needs, to ensure that they become productive members of society after they have served their time.

Otherwise, if we don’t focus on rehabilitation, we’re not actually addressing the problems that are related to crime – we’re merely postponing them.