Campbell dramatically freed after conviction overturned

October 7, 2013

A  Dundalk man,  who was freed by a Lithuanian court after spending almost six years in jail in the Baltic state, arrived back in his Faughart home on Thursday.

Michael Campbell was dramatically freed a day earlier during an appeal hearing against the 12 year sentence he was handed in October 2011.

Convicted of attempting to procure weapons for dissident republicans, Campbell has always maintained his innocence, insisting that he was set-up and the victim of an MI5 sting operation when he was arrested in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in 2008.

His incarceration in Lithuanian jails has been well documented by The Examiner and, in recent weeks, attention has been focused on efforts by the Michael Campbell Repatriation Group to have him returned to Ireland to serve out the remainder of his sentence.

Last month four high profile TD’s travelled on a humanitarian visit to Vilnius to meet with Michael Campbell and see first-hand the inhumane conditions in which he was being held.  Éamon Ó Cuív, Martin Ferris, Maureen O’Sullivan and Clare Daly all voiced their support for his repatriation.

However, it was during last Wednesday’s hearing at the Lithuanian Court of Appeal that Michael Campbell’s conviction was quashed when judge Viktoras Kazys stated that there was insufficient evidence to deny statements that his actions had been provoked by undercover MI5 agents.

Although welcomed, his release came rather unexpectedly as his lawyer, Ingrida Botyriene, had indicated they thought the case would continue for some time, perhaps reaching the European Court of Human Rights.

Expressing satisfaction at the outcome, she said, ”He was acquitted because the court found that what he was accused of was a provocation.  It was just an activity of the state security services.”

Ms Botyriene added that a person “cannot be sentenced for a crime committed by state officials”, and suggested that they would be seeking compensation.

Michael Campbell returned home to his family on Thursday.

A spokesperson for the Michael Campbell Repatriation Group said the group is ecstatic that Michael has been freed and conveyed his appreciation to everyone who has supported him throughout the ordeal.

“The support group are absolutely delighted, ecstatic with the result, not only for Michael and the fact he is back on Irish soil as a free man, reunited with his family and friends, but also because some faith has been restored in the concept of  ‘Justice’ and the rule of law,” the spokesperson said.

“The judge, in delivering his decision, was rightfully scathing of both the Lithuanian state security services and British MI5.

“Michael has always pleaded his innocence. Being innocent and unjustly imprisoned in such terrible conditions in a foreign country was an awful cross for him to bear, but thankfully that nightmare journey is over. Micheal just wants to express his thanks to all who supported him though this   Hopefully, lessons can be learned from what he has endured and all state observers will now appreciate that entrapment is simply illegal and the truth will prevail in the end. “Hopefully as well, drawing to the attention the inhuman and degrading conditions in Lithuanian prisons, will make the Lithuanian government sit up and make the changes that should be made to give prisoners in Lithuania parity with prisoners in other EU states, particularly in this the year of the Lithuanian presidency of the EU. “

Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy also welcomed Campbell’s release and said: “This is good news for Michael Campbell and his family.  Michael Campbell has been held in dubious circumstances and in dreadful conditions for the past five years and we now see that the courts in Vilnius have determined that there was no evidence supporting the original conviction.

“Sinn Féin has lobbied on Michael Campbell’s case through many different channels.  We submitted successful motions to Newry and Mourne and Louth Councils, we raised the matter through the Assembly, Leinster House and through our MEP in the European Parliament,” he added.