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Amendments to Lithuanian Law Threaten Freedom of Expression
The Lithuanian Parliament has started the new year by making fresh attempts to restrict the freedom of the media and the public to express their views.

Proposed changes threaten freedom to challenge views and criticise authorities

Amendments to the Law on the Provision of Information to the Public, which were tabled on 2 January by the parliamentary Committee on Culture, threaten the freedom to debate history and criticise the authorities in Lithuania. They also give the state broad powers to prohibit the media from disseminating information. The basis for these changes is vague, with information “used against the interests of national security” being targeted.

The draft amendments aim to block the publication of information in public media if it “attempts to distort the historical memory of the Republic of Lithuania, promotes distrust in and dissatisfaction with the country and its institutions, democratic system and/or military, aims to widen national and cultural divisions, weaken national identity and civic engagement, undermine the citizens’ determination to defend their country, or otherwise influences democracy, elections or the party system in a way that runs counter to the interests of national security.”

Amendments incompatible with freedom of expression standards

According to the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, the proposed amendments are incompatible with the freedom of expression standards laid out in the Constitution and also go against the European Convention on Human Rights. The amended law would allow the authorities to unjustifiably limit freedom of expression and public debate on historical, political, cultural, and other important public issues. It would also restrict the right to criticise the public authorities and could block the public’s access to information on political issues, as well as other issues of public interest.

According to the HRMI “Criticism of state authorities is invariably linked to expressing dissatisfaction with the way they are acting or with specific acts. In some cases, it is linked to expressing distrust in these authorities for issues such as incompetence, conflict of interest, etc. Adopting the proposed general ban would create a situation where any criticism that assesses state authorities in a negative light could be accused of fostering ‘distrust in and dissatisfaction with’ Lithuania or its institutions.”

Lithuanian constitution explicitly allows critical voices

The Constitution explicitly provides for the right to be critical of state authorities and prohibits censure for such criticism. The importance of this right was also highlighted by the European Court of Human Rights, which pointed out that in democratic countries, government action or inaction should be scrutinised by the media and checked by public opinion. Furthermore, not only does the media have the right to disseminate such information on political issues; the public also has a right to receive it.

In its submission to the parliamentary committees, the Human Rights Monitoring Institute recommended scrapping these amendments altogether.


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Lithuanian Authorities Once Again Try to Limit Freedom of Speech

The Lithuanian government rejected draft amendments to the law that would have allowed journalists continued free access to the information held by the Center of Registers. The audio recording of the government hearing on this issue was destroyed.

Free access to information limited

In the middle of September, the Center of Registers decided to discontinue its long-standing practice of providing information to journalists officially requesting it for free. According to the Center’s representatives, this practice was unlawful since it was not prescribed by the law. It was suggested that journalists, being business actors, should pay for the information provided by the Center of Registers at standard commercial rates.

Lithuanian journalists publicly appealed to the authorities, stressing that this “seriously violated the freedom guaranteed by the law and the Constitution to freely collect, receive and disseminate information”.

Audio recording of the government hearing destroyed

In response to the outrage, the Ministry of Transport and Communications prepared draft amendments to the law that would have allowed journalists to continue receiving the Center’s information for free. However, at a government hearing, it was decided not to approve the draft, returning it to the Ministry for improvement. Unofficially, it is said that the Prime Minister himself was against the media-friendly proposal.

When the journalists applied for access to the audio recording of this hearing, they were initially refused on the grounds of confidentiality. A few days later, the audio recording was destroyed.

And even though a few weeks later the government did issue a temporary decree to restore free access to the Center of Registers for journalists in the near future, there is still no word about restoring the audio recording.

Challenge to the freedom of speech

In the view of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, both the government hearing and the decision taken raised active public discussions, which means that the recording should be considered a document of public interest – something the government should have published, not destroyed. According to the Institute’s experts, actions like this hinder the ability of the media to collect information on issues important to society, denying the public its right to know.

Commenting on the situation, Lithuania’s president claimed that “most countries have long been treading the path of data openness, because open access to data has a positive impact on the economy, on the development of innovation, on state development, and on the daily life of citizens”.

A protest was held in front of the Palace of the Government, attended by several hundred people. The protesters were asking the Government to not limit media freedom and to give journalists open access to the data of the Center of Registers.

The following information was used in the making of this article: [1]; [2]; [3]; [4].


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Human Rights in Lithuania 2016-2017

Human Rights Monitoring Institute presents overview “Human Rights in Lithuania 2016-2017.” It is our 9th overview which is the only periodic assessment of the human rights situation in Lithuania conducted by 17 independent experts from various fields.

 


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Free Speech Under Threat From New Amendment to Lithuania’s Consumer Protection Law

A proposed ban on the sale of certain goods could deter public and academic discussions on contemporary and historical armed conflicts as well as present-day policy issues.

The Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI) has submitted its observations on the draft amendment to the Law on Consumer Protection, which seeks to prohibit the sale of goods that, according to its drafters, could potentially undermine Lithuanian interests.

Series of prohibitions

The amendment would prohibit the sale of goods that promote a positive view of acts of aggression against another state or other actions that violate state sovereignty, distort historical facts regarding Lithuania, degrade the history of Lithuania, its independence, territorial integrity or constitutional order, or promote a positive view of violations of state borders established in accordance with international law. It is likely that these prohibitions would also apply to books and other publications.

The Human Rights Monitoring Institute pointed out to the parliamentary committees currently deliberating the amendment (the Committee on Legal Affairs, the Committee on Human Rights and the Committee on Economics) that the grounds for the ban were drawn up too broadly and would disproportionately limit the fundamental right to freedoms of expression.

The ban would potentially deter public and academic discussions on contemporary and historical armed conflicts, as well as on issues relating to international and foreign policy, inter-state relations and other political topics.

The ban could also potentially unreasonably limit the exchange of ideas and information as well as public or academic discussions on historical events and facts.

Objects ‘undermine the history of Lithuania’

Of particular concern is the proposal to ban the sale of goods that “distort the historical facts of Lithuania, undermine the history of Lithuania.”

In its observations, the HRMI points out that “freedom of expression in all cases includes the right to form, possess and disseminate opinion. The ban in question directly encroaches on these rights: it enables creating a single correct ‘state’ interpretation of historical events relating to Lithuania. Establishing a ‘one-and-only correct, state-approved’ interpretation is tantamount to the indoctrination of the citizenry, limiting their right to hold and disseminate their views on historical events.”

The HRMI also pointed out that adopting such a ban would be contrary to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which has repeatedly emphasized that open debate on historical issues is in the public interest.

The ECtHR is consistent on this matter: each state must discuss its history in an open and impartial manner. According to the ECHR, the search for historical truth is an integral part of freedom of expression, and democracies must allow free discussions on historical topics of public import.

The Constitutional Court of Lithuania has also established that no opinion or ideology can be deemed mandatory and imposed on an individual, while the state must remain neutral with regard to personal convictions and has no right to establish any mandatory views.

Parliament has already approved the draft amendment to the Law on Consumer Protection prepared by the Ministry of Economy for parliamentary consideration. At present, the draft is being considered by the committees of Parliament.


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Say No to Online Censorship in Europe!

The EU is finalising a new censorship proposal. If it becomes law, the content you try to upload and share with your friends will be filtered out and banned by bots, all in the name of copyright protection. 

HRMI together with partners is joining the campaign “Say No to Online Censorship in Europe!” urging  European parliamentarians to vote against this proposal that would restrict freedom of expression online. If the new EU copyright proposal is passed, YouTube, Facebook and other file-sharing platforms would be forced to implement new algorithms to check whether the content you upload has any copyrighted elements. Bots would judge what you can share – and what can be shared with you. They would filter out and ban anything that might cause a problem. Any problem.

Disproportionate content filtering

Copyright protection is important for everyone. But with this proposal, the EU has developed the wrong tool for the job. They want online companies like YouTube and Facebook to check everything that ordinary people put on the internet and filter out any upload that contains copyrighted material. For example, that video of your friends having at a music festival that you wanted to post to Facebook? It could be banned because there’s copyrighted music in the background. That hilarious meme you wanted to tweet? Banned because it uses an image from a film.

In the face of the threat of censorship on the Internet and limitation of freedom of expression, the initiators of the campaign call on all to address MEPs and write a letter calling on them to vote against this initiative.

Source: https://www.liberties.eu/en/campaigns/protect-free-speech-campaign-online-censorship/249 


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Sekmadienis Ltd. v. Lithuania: When Freedom of Expression is Restricted on a Whim

By banning ads featuring characters resembling Jesus and St. Mary, Lithuania unreasonably restricted free speech and the freedom of expression, concluded the ECtHR in the case of Sekmadienis Ltd. v. Lithuania.

The Lithuanian authorities acted unreasonably when they fined Sekmadienis Ltd. for ads with people resembling religious characters, ruled the European Court of Human Rights. The State’s argument that it was trying protect believers’ feelings failed to persuade the judges.

The banned posters show young people clothed in designer R. Kalinkinas’s collection, with the slogans “Jesus, what trousers!”, “Dear Mary, what a dress!” and “Jesus [and] Mary, what are you wearing!” underneath.

Kalinkinas

Ads for Robertas Kalinkinas’s collection

In November of 2012 the State Inspectorate of Non-Food Products found the ads used religious symbols in a disrespectful and inappropriate manner, and thus could be seen as offensive to public honor and dignity.

€579 fine

With reference to these findings, the State Consumer Rights Protection Authority ruled that the ads violated the Law on Advertising with respect to public morals, fining the company 2,000 Litas (€579).

Sekmadienis Ltd. tried to appeal the fine, but was unsuccessful in court. The final judgment of the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania left the fine as it was, arguing that religious symbols were used inappropriately in the ads. According to the court, the form of advertising [chosen by the applicant company] did not conform to good morals and to the principles of respecting the values of the Christian faith and its sacred symbols.

In October of 2014, the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, representing the designer, applied to the ECtHR, claiming a violation of the freedom of expression.

Lithuanian authorities fail to persuade the ECtHR

After examining the case, the ECtHR found that Lithuania unreasonably restricted the freedom of expression of Sekmadienis UAB and thus violated Article 10 of ECHR.

Strasbourg strongly criticized the reasons of the Lithuanian advertising authority and the country’s courts for dismissing the appeals against the fine. According to the ECtHR, the authorities’ arguments were declarative and vague, and did not sufficiently explain what precisely was so offensive about these ads.

According to the ECHR, the Lithuanian authorities failed to balance the need to protect the feelings of believers with the applicant’s freedom of expression, giving absolute priority to the former.

The opinion of Judge De Gaetano was even harsher than that of the majority: “In the instant case, however, there was nothing in the three adverts in question (which, incidentally, can still be viewed online) which could, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered as either offensive, much less as amounting to any form of vilification of religion or religious symbols, and which could be construed as justifying an interference ‘for the protection of … the rights of others’”. According to the judge, there was no reason for this case to come to the authorities’ attention in the first place.

The company that created the ad was awarded with €580 in damages.


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Fast Food Chain Fine Provokes Public Debate on Limits of Freedom of Expression

The fast food chain “Keulė Rūkė” received a €1,500 fine from the State Consumer Rights Protection Authority for violating the principles of public morality and denigrating religious symbols in advertising.

The decision provoked varying responses from the Lithuanian public: some are happy that the affront was stopped, others are convinced that it undermines freedom of speech.

Bistro famous for political speeches

The bistro is famous not only for its unconventional interior design, but also for its bold, ironic statements and for its particularly well-known political graffiti. The most widely-covered of them, attracting attention even from international media, was a picture of the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the US President Donald Trump, reminiscent of the historic Berlin Wall kiss.

The wall in front of the bistro was recently decorated with yet another illustration, this time aimed at three politicians of Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union and likening to “Islamic State terrorists.” This way, the authors were expressing their opinion on the alcohol control laws initiated and passed by these politicians.

“Keulė Rūkė” does not shy away from religious symbols (the cross, the prayer book or the crucifix) in promotional photos on its Facebook account. It is these ads in particular that offended people, who asked the Public Prosecutor’s Office to launch a pre-trial investigation.

Fined for denigrating religious symbols

The Prosecutor’s Office handed the investigation over to the State Consumer Rights Protection Authority, which found that the ads violated the Law on Advertising. The latter provides that advertising may be prohibited if it violates the principles of public morality or denigrates religious symbols.

The SCRPA reasoned that the ads of “Keulė Rūkė” went beyond moral bounds because the religious symbols were used disrespectfully for commercial purposes, thus offending believers.

“The ads provoke debate on issues important to society”

The decision sparked public discussions about the very concept of public morality, as well as the limits of free speech and when free speech should be restricted.

According to Karolis Liutkevičius, a lawyer working for the Human Rights Monitoring Institute in Lithuania, such advertising falls under the freedom of expression provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights precisely because it provokes debate on issues of important to society.

The owners of the bistro disagree with the fine and plan to appeal the decision, stressing that it infringes on freedom of expression. Dominykas Čečkauskas, one of fast food joint’s founders, claimed that the ads were not meant to offend Christians, but instead to express an alternative opinion on religion and censorship.


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Lithuania Criticized After ECHR Ruling on Russian ‘Homosexual Propaganda’

“The judgment is an important precedent in the European context. Lithuania’s anti-propaganda law, which is similar to the Russian one, is still in place, while the European Commission refuses to step in,” said Dutch MEP Sophie In’t Veld (Vice-President of the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights), commenting on the June 20 European Court of Human Rights judgment in the case of Bayev and others v. Russia.

This is the first time that the Strasbourg court admitted that Russian laws prohibiting “public activities that aim to promote homosexuality among minors” are contrary to freedom of expression and the principle of non-discrimination.

ECtHR condemns Russian homophobia

In the Bayev case, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) drew attention to the consensus in Europe on the right of individuals to openly identify themselves as members of the LGBT community. The court disagreed that there is a conflict between “family values” and the recognition of homosexuality.

According to the court, many same-sex couples live in line with – not in opposition to – “family values”: they want to get married, adopt kids and become parents.

Although most Russians currently are against same-sex relationships, any situation where the rights of a minority are dependent on approval from the majority would go against the values of the Convention.

The fact that minors see the applicants’ campaigns, and are subsequently introduced to the ideas of diversity, equality and tolerance, can only be treated as a plus for social cohesion.

Finally, the court found that Russia was unable to provide a convincing explanation of how information about homosexual relationships could harm juveniles, morals, or public health.

LGBT rights violations in Lithuania

According to the Lithuanian Law on the Protection of Minors Against the Detrimental Effects of Public Information, any information that promotes a concept of marriage and family other than the one stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania or in the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania is harmful to minors.

This provision has been repeatedly criticized by the international community. It was already used three times to ban information related to the LGBT community, including Baltic Pride videos and a book of fairytales about same-sex couples.

“Lithuania is having no regard to human rights, which are at the heart of the European project. This is unacceptable. It is time for the European Commission to protect the rights of all Lithuanians, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex Lithuanians. They should ensure that this case law is also implemented in the EU context,” said MEP Sophie In’t Veld.


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Another Attempt at Media Censorship in Lithuania Fails After Public Outcry

MPs belonging to the Farmers and Greens Union proposed legally obliging the Lithuanian media to publish “positive” and “negative” information in equal parts.

Dovilė Šakalienė, Zenonas Streikus and Robert Šarknickas, members of the ruling coalition in Parliament, gave quite a fright to Lithuanian journalists with their proposal to put into law that at least 50 percent of all published media content be comprised of “positive” information.

Such information in the media would have to be put “at the start informational programs or the first few pages of any publication.”

Too much negative info on politicians?

The explanatory memorandum accompanying the bill states that corruption, abuse of power and other problems “often find their way into the media spotlight.”

According to the bill’s drafters, this “contributes to the public feeling disappointed in public authorities and becoming detached from political life, as well as promoting distrust in the media and the information it publishes.”

The drafters argued that their amendments would also help to protect the public’s mental health.

Bill will ‘help the media’

When members of the media expressed their outrage that this was an attempt to introduce censorship, the bill’s drafters were unfazed and didn’t drop the proposal.

According to one of them, MP Dovilė Šakalienė, the law doesn’t aim to censor, but rather “help the media publish more positive content alongside negative information, as well as to “help journalists wishing to report more positive information.”

She further claimed that this was also an attempt to pre-empt even more radical proposals to limit the media that she heard about from her colleagues in Parliament.

Disowning another attack on media freedom

The bill was scrapped only after it became the object of a heated discussion in public. Furthermore, the MPs that proposed it then went on to claim that they weren’t the ones who had drafted it – the bill, they said, was “borrowed” from a former MP, who drafted the amendment but never submitted it for parliamentary consideration.

The Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania prohibits media censorship and guarantees its freedom. Media freedom is further protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees that the media has wide rights to publish information that is important to the public.

This is not the first (failed) attempt by current MPs to restrict the media in some form: At the end of 2016, MPs proposed amending the Civil Code to hold journalists liable for defamation for publishing inaccurate information concerning a public person, even in cases where that journalist did so with good intentions.


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Lithuania Violates Inmate’s Right to Internet Access for Studying

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.


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Public opinion poll (2016)

On October 19-26 the public opinion poll on the prevailing attitudes in society towards the human rights situation in Lithuania was  carried out by “Spinter tyrimai”, a market research company. The poll, commissioned by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, is primarily aimed at determining the general public’s knowledge level about human rights and ways to defend them, as well as the extent of confidence in the mechanisms for protection of these rights.

Results of 2016 poll: 

According to Lithuanians, the most-violated right in 2016 was the right to fair trial. This follows the trend of 2012 and 2014. The right to privacy was the second-most violated right, while the right to participate in political life had the least amount of violations associated with it.

Sufficient info

There was a slight increase in the number of people claiming that they have enough information on human rights, with as much as 63% indicating so in this year’s survey, compared to 52% in 2012 and 60% in 2014.

Those claiming that there was enough information on human rights were most likely to be 18-45 years old, having attained the highest level of education, belonging to the highest income bracket and living in urban areas.

The number of people knowing where to go in the event of a rights violation has also been growing steadily. In 2016, more than half (57%) of respondents claimed that they knew which institution to go to when their rights are violated, compare to 54% in 2014, 52% in 2012 and 49% in 2010.

Rarely defend their rights

Going by the results of the survey, one in five Lithuanians has had his or her rights violated. Nevertheless, only 7% of all respondents claiming that their rights had been violated took steps to remedy the issue.

As was the case in previous years, the main reason for the reluctance to defend one’s rights is the lack of trust in institutions that are meant to remedy breaches. As much as three fourths of those that claimed a rights violation but failed to do anything about it said that they didn’t believe that going to an institution would help.

The survey revealed that when people did go to an institution when their rights were violated, they most often went to the police or the prosecutor’s office (36%), followed by NGOs and the courts.

Mentally disabled face greatest discrimination

Respondents were also asked to opine which social group faced the most discrimination in Lithuania. The situation remains unchanged for the sixth year running, with the mentally disabled being named the most discriminated social group. They got 5.68 points (compared to 5.03 points in 2014), with the elderly coming in second (5.40) and persons with physical disabilities settling on third place (5.21).

This year, the survey also included refugees as a possible social group. Their vulnerability was rated fairly highly, scoring a little over 5 points (5.02). Those aged 26-35 and urban residents were more likely to claim that refugees were discriminated against.

 


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Lithuanian MPs Attempt to Curtail the Media’s Right to Criticize Politicians

On 8 December, Lithuanian MPs unanimously voted to amend the country’s Civil Code to limit the right to criticize public figures. With such decision, Lithuanian parliament significantly curtailed freedom of speech and media freedom in the country.

However, following concerns raised by the journalists, lawyers and NGOs, on 19 December the Lithuanian President vetoed the law, and the amendments were  subsequently withdrawn.

Eliminating media safeguards

At present, the Civil Code provides more leeway when publishing information about public figures and their work, compared to what is permissible with regard to private individuals.

If it turns out that the published information is false, but the person who published it can prove that he was acting in good faith and didn’t know that it was not true, that person is off the hook and is not liable for financial compensation.

These safeguards first and foremost concern journalists, allowing them to freely carry out their work and to inform the public on the affairs of public figures.

Defending the dignity of politicians

On 8 December, the legislature saw fit to change the rules. The amendment dispensed with the aforementioned safeguards when publishing false information harms a person’s honor and dignity.

Purportedly, the amendment was adopted because of a need to establish civil remedies against insults when the latter were decriminalized.

However, by adopting this amendment, MPs actually did away with the extra protection given to journalists, since, in essence, spreading false information can harm the reputation of a public figure and thus “abase his honor and dignity” in each and every case.

Deterring journalists

“These changes pose a serious threat to the work of the media, as they lay the groundwork for holding journalists liable under civil law for criticizing the actions of public figures by claiming that [the criticism] does not meet the facts and is degrading to that public figure’s honor and dignity,” said Karolis Liutkevičius of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute.

According to the legal expert, these regulations can deter the media from carrying out its direct duties – namely, informing the public on pertinent issues. Media freedom also covers the right to hyperbole or even provocation, debate and harsh criticism, all to ensure that the press is able to function as the guardian of the public interest.

Threshold for criticizing normally wide

“Criticism and evaluative statements cannot be tantamount to insults, while the right to criticize the work of the authorities and public officials is protected by our country’s Constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights,” Liutkevičius said.

According to him, the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly made clear that politicians acting in an official capacity are subject to wider limits of acceptable criticism than ordinary citizens.

Politicians inevitably and knowingly open themselves up to oversight regarding their words and actions, whether by the press or the public at large, and must be more tolerant towards criticism.

Remedies already exist

Lithuanian journalists have made more than a few public appeals to President Dalia Grybauskaitė, urging her to exercise her veto.

The Human Rights Monitoring Institute has also provided the president with its opinion on the amendment. In HRMI’s view, remedies for defending one’s honor and dignity against malicious publication of false information are already available to both public figures and private individuals.

As such, instead of better protecting human dignity, the amendments to the Civil Code would just further restrict free speech and media freedom in Lithuania.

Updated on 22 December 2016.


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Can Jesus Wear Jeans in Lithuania? The Strasbourg Court Will Decide

The European Court of Human Rights will have to determine whether the images of Jesus and Mary in advertising are contrary to public morals.

It has agreed to examine the complaint of designer Robert Kalinkin (represented by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute in this case) regarding the undue restriction of his freedom of expression.

Fined

The banned ad posters depicted young men and women wearing clothes from Kalinkin’s collection, with slogans such as “Jesus, what trousers!”, “Dear Mary, what a dress!” and “Jesus [and] Mary, what are you wearing!”

In November 2012, the State Inspectorate of Non-Food Products declared that the ads used religious symbols in a disrespectful and inappropriate manner, and as such could be seen as being contrary to public morals.

Relying on these findings, the State Consumer Rights Protection Authority ruled that the ads for the designer’s collection violated the provisions of the Law on Advertising concerning public morals and fined the advertiser 2,000 litas (€579).

Offended believers

The company responsible for organizing the ad campaign, Sekmadienis UAB, appealed the fine, but was unsuccessful at first instance. Among other things, the court relied on the letter from the Lithuanian Bishop’s Conference, signed by one hundred believers who claimed that the ads offended their religious sensibilities.

On appeal, a chamber of three Justices of the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania confirmed the findings of the court of first instance, namely, that the religious symbols were used inappropriately in the ads.

 

R. Kalinkin kolekcija

According to the court, the disseminated advertisements were clearly contrary to public morals, since religion, being a certain type of world view, unavoidably contributes to the moral development of society. Symbols of a religious nature occupy a significant place in the system of spiritual values of individuals and society as a whole, the judges said, and their unsuitable use demeans them and is contrary to universally accepted moral and ethical norms.

The court ruled that the chosen form of advertising did not conform to good morals and to the principles of respecting the values of the Christian faith and its sacred symbols.

Next stop: Strasbourg

Karolis Liutkevičius, the Human Rights Monitoring Institute lawyer representing the case in Strasbourg, claims that the aforementioned judgment constituted an unreasonable restriction on artists’ and businesses’ freedom of expression:

“One of the fundamental problems with the decisions made by the authorities, which prompted us to take on this case, is that they tend to conflate public morals with religious (specifically, Catholic) morals.”

According to Liutkevičius, Lithuania is a secular state – it’s one of the fundamental social principles enshrined in the Constitution.

“With this case, we want to once again draw attention to this principle and, at the same time, protect the public’s right to public discourse and expression that is free, colorful and unburdened by unreasonable restrictions based on religion.”

The Lithuanian government has until January 24, 2017, to submit its response in the case.


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Human Rights in Lithuania 2013-2014: Overview

On June 17, HRMI released its 8th overview „Human Rights in Lithuania: 2013-2014“. The Overview is the only periodic assessment of the human rights situation in Lithuania conducted by more than 20 independent experts. It covers rights of the child, women’s rights, freedom of speech, assembly and religion, prohibition of torture and other fundamental rights. Read the full Overview here.


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Public opinion poll (2014)

Starting in 2004, Human Rights Monitoring Institute began assessing the prevailing attitudes in society towards the human rights situation in Lithuania. For this purpose HRMI, in cooperation with the Market and Opinion Research Centre “Vilmorus Ltd.”, carries out a biennial public opinion poll on human rights related questions.

The opinion polls are primarily aimed at determining the general public’s knowledge level about human rights and ways to defend them, as well as the extent of confidence in the mechanisms for protection of these rights.

The poll’s questions cover civil and political rights with an added emphasis on the public’s awareness of instances of discrimination and violations of privacy: the poll participants are asked to indicate the most discriminated societal groups and to determine whether a violation of privacy occurred in given example scenarios.

The findings indicate that the absolute majority (95 percent) of Lithuanian residents who thought that their rights had been infringed did not report said infringement to any institution. However, by contrast, a fifth or more of the respondents have indicated a willingness to defend their rights in previous years (over 18 percent in 2012 and over 22 percent in 2010).

For more statistics see the executive summary (English) of the findings or the read the full findings (Lithuanian only).


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Fashion Designer Kalinkin’s case – freedom of expression

“This story created a huge impact and, in my opinion, will have an even greater impact in the future. For me, the case itself is not a matter of principle, it’s a way to create precedent and raise important questions for society. Meanwhile, I can only summarize the case tongue-in-cheek – if Jesus is everywhere, why can’t he be in our advertisements?”

– Fashion designer Robertas Kalinkinas


Proceedings initiated: 2014

Proceedings closed: the case is pending

Case in brief: Lithuanian fashion designer was fined 579 EUR for inappropriate use of religious symbols in his advertising campaign


Facts of the case:

In fall 2012, fashion designer Robertas Kalinkinas launched an advertising campaign of his new clothing line. The advertising posters aesthetically depicted attractive young men dressed in clothes from Mr. Kalinkinas’s line and bore slogans saying, “Jesus, what are your pants like!”, “Dear Mary, what a dress!” and “Jesus, Mary, what are you wearing!”.

However, in the fall of 2012, the State Non-Food Inspectorate declared that the aforementioned advertisements used religious symbols in a disrespectful and inappropriate manner, and as such could be seen as an insult to public dignity and integrity. With reference to these conclusions, the State Consumer Protection Authority ruled that the advertisements violated the public morals provision of the Law on Advertising and imposed a fine of 579 EUR.

roberto-kalinkino-kolekcijos-reklama-544df0a1f3d0c

Roberto Kalinkino drabužių kolekcijos reklama

Legal proceedings

The designer appealed the fine to the court, but his claim was dismissed. Among other evidence, the court took into consideration a letter signed by 100 believers, submitted to the court by the Lithuanian Bishop’s Conference, where it was claimed that the advertisement in question offended their sensibilities.

The appellate court upheld the lower court’s judgment finding that religious symbols were depicted in the ads “in the improper way”. Such depiction was not in line “with the values of morality and Christian faith” and hence it failed to honour the sacred nature of the symbols.

In October 2014, acting in the interest of Robertas Kalinkinas, the Human Rights Monitoring Institute submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights arguing unnecessary and disproportionate restriction of freedom of expression. The application was submitted in the case of “Sekmadienis UAB v Lithuania”. Sekmadienis UAB were commissioned by the designer to organize the presentation of his 2013 spring/summer line, for which the aforementioned advertising campaign was prepared. The ECtHR’s admissibility decision is pending.


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Hate Speech in Lithuania – FAQ (2013)

In November 2013, HRMI released English version of the informational guide “Hate Speech in Lithuania: Frequently Asked Questions”.

In recent years, public discussion about the hate speech has intensified. Successful legislative initiatives to ban public denial of genocide and the Soviet aggression perpetrated against Lithuania and the first lawsuits have caused ambiguous response. Each month, the media reports on cases opened against Internet commenters. Such articles are accompanied by the new wave of hatred and discontent regarding the restriction of the freedom of expression.

What hate speech is, and how is it expressed in Lithuania? Is Lithuania the only state to restrict its citizens’ right to freedom of expression? Can the right of expression be limited in the first place? Who are targeted by demeaning words, and who those commenters behind anonymous nicknames usually are? How should one respond to the incident of hate speech? “Hate Speech in Lithuania: Frequently Asked Questions” seeks to provide answers to those and many other questions. The informational guide was originally released in Lithuanian, in 2011, updated in 2013.


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Human Rights in Lithuania: 2011-2012 Overview

Human Rights Monitoring Institute presents the seventh overview of human rights in Lithuania (in Lithuanian). It is a unique report on the human rights situation in Lithuania in the period of 2011-2012. An English summary of the overview is also available.


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Public opinion poll (2012)

Starting in 2004, Human Rights Monitoring Institute began assessing the prevailing attitudes in society towards the human rights situation in Lithuania. For this purpose HRMI, in cooperation with the Market and Opinion Research Centre “Vilmorus Ltd.”, carries out a biennial public opinion poll on human rights related questions.

The opinion polls are primarily aimed at determining the general public’s knowledge level about human rights and ways to defend them, as well as the extent of confidence in the mechanisms for protection of these rights.

The poll’s questions cover civil and political rights with an added emphasis on the public’s awareness of instances of discrimination and violations of privacy: the poll participants are asked to indicate the most discriminated societal groups and to determine whether a violation of privacy occurred in given example scenarios.

The 2012 poll indicates that certain trends are quite stable. First, the level of action to defend rights remains very low – only 1 in 5 respondents who considered their rights violated sought help. Second, the level of confidence in the effectiveness of human rights defence mechanisms has not increased as well – 4 out of 5 respondents who refrained from seeking help did not believe they would have received effective assistance, allowing them to defend their rights.

Full results (in Lithuanian)


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Human Rights in Lithuania: 2009-2010 Overview

On 26 May 2011, HRMI presented its traditional independent assessment of human rights in Lithuania “Human Rights in Lithuania 2009-2010: Overview”, which is based on in-house research, reports and other documents prepared by government institutions, Lithuanian and international NGOs and intergovernmental organizations, media monitoring data, and consultations with experts.

In 2009, when presenting the 2007-2008 Human Rights Overview, HRMI highlighted the ongoing deterioration of human rights situation in Lithuania since joining the European Union. “We emphasized the direct link between increasing levels of emigration and lack of foreign investment, on the one hand, and unsatisfactory human rights condition, on the other. We called for expansion of human dimension on political agenda, in which, irrespective of economic prosperity or recession, the attitude of immature democracy prevails that successful economic development will lead to improvement in human rights situation,” – said Henrikas Mickevicius, HRMI Executive Director.

Public discourse and political practice of recent years revealed that HRMI was not heard. Instead of care for human rights, a poorly disguised or even proudly displayed hostility towards human rights became obvious. Human rights situation continued to deteriorate and the popular joke about mass evacuation seem to resemble the truth. Disrespect for human rights and the culture of intolerance were openly employed as tools in political competition.

The Overview highlights the most serious violations of the prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to fair trial, emphasizes regress in application of principles of equal opportunities and anti-discrimination, draws attention to the rapid growth of intrusions into private life, and to restrictions on the right to participate in public life and freedom of assembly. Special attention is paid to an unsatisfactory state of the rights of vulnerable groups, in particular of children and mentally disabled.

Human Rights in Lithuania 2009-2010: Overview


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Human Rights in Lithuania: 2007-2008 Overview

On June 10th, 2009 HRMI released the fifth human rights overview.

The Overview covers the situation of fundamental political and civil rights in Lithuania during the period of 2007-2008. It reviews the implementation of the right to political participation, the right to freedom of expression, the right to respect for private life and the right to a fair trial as well as various manifestations of racism, anti-semitism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance and discrimination. The situation of a few socially vulnerable groups such as women, children, and prisoners, the disabled and medical patients in the context of human rights is analysed separately.

See full text of the Overview in English: Human Rights in Lithuania 2007-2008: Overview


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Whistleblower’s protection case

“The dismissal of D. Budreviciene was like a warning or a threat directed at other employees: they will face the same fate should they dare to speak up. The victory [in the case] is very important in the context of employer-employee relationship. The employer intended to control employees and reprimand them for talking to the press”

– attorney-at-law Kęstutis Čilinskas, legal representative of Dalia Budrevičienė


Proceedings initiated: 2006

Proceedings closed: 2009

Case in brief: after disclosing that the salaries in the company are paid “unofficially”, i.e. avoiding the taxes, the whistle-blower was fired and accused of defamation

Outcome of the case: the whistle-blower’s dismissal was found to be unlawful, her employer was ordered to pay damages


Facts of the case:

In February 2006, a residents meeting with politicians in a small town of Krekenava turned into something bigger when one of the residents, Ms Dalia Budreviciene, stood up and publicly asked when the salaries in one of the biggest local companies – “Krekenavos agrofirma” –  will finally be paid officially. This caused quite a stir when subsequent investigations of the State Tax Inspectorate and the Financial Crimes Investigation Service led to findings that some of the taxes in these companies have indeed been evaded.

Ms Budreviciene was subsequently dismissed from her job in the company and faced the defamation charges.

Legal proceedings:

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Attoney-at-law Kęstutis Čilinskas with Dalia Budrevičienė, whistleblower in “Krekenavos agrofirma” case © “Lietuvos žinios”

Case No 1. In July 2006 Panevezys District Court ruled that Dalia Budreviciene had been dismissed illegally. The Court also held that “Krekenavos agrofirma” has to pay redundancy of 323 EUR and the average wage for the forced absenteeism of the period starting with the day of dismissal until the day when the ruling came into force, for one absenteeism month paying 161 EUR.

Case No 2. In September Kedainiai District Court found Dalia Budreviciene not guilty in the case of defamation, for which she was accused by her former employer, the head of “Krekenavos agrofirma” – Linas Grikšas.

Case No 3. At the end of 2007 Human Rights Monitoring Instititute submitted a complaint on behalf of Dalia Budreviciene requesting her former employer a pay 145 000 EUR in non-pecuniary damages. On 18 November 2008 Panevezys Court awarded Dalia Budrevičienė with 25 000 EUR in moral damages. The judgment was upheld on appeal.

 

 


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Human Rights in Lithuania 2005: Overview

On May 16th, 2006 HRMI released the third annual human rights overview. This overview presents the state of political and civil rights and freedoms in Lithuania in 2005. It addresses the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, civil liberties, discrimination, racism and other forms of intolerance, as well as human rights in police activities. The publication offers a separate overview of the situation of vulnerable groups, such as women, children, crime victims, convicts, and the mentally disabled.

The capacity to protect the right to privacy is facilitated through adequate awareness and the manifestation of the meaning of respect for privacy in the public domain. The general public, politicians, the media, law enforcement officers and courts still do not view protection of private life as an imperative and worthy component in the quest for democracy. In this environment, the use of video surveillance, which is largely unregulated, expanded rapidly in 2005.

Inappropriate practices within law enforcement agencies led to widespread abuse of personal data protection, where private information entered the public domain without legal sanction. Wide-spread public use of personal identification numbers created an increased risk. Personal identity theft became an increasingly worrisome issue. Events of 2005 illustrate the need for the establishment of an independent national institution, which would safeguard data protection within its mandate.

Regarding the right to a fair trial, the tendency of political interference in the work of law enforcement agencies and courts became apparent in 2005. Frequent parliamentary investigations led to violations in the presumption of innocence and undermined the efforts by law enforcement agencies to investigate suspected crimes. At the same time, parliament is increasingly hesitant to strip suspected MPs of parliamentary immunity.  Problems related to the lack of independence and professionalism among pre-trial investigators have persisted.

The right to freedom of expression was not sufficiently ensured in 2005. There were attempts by politicians to suppress the criticism from their political opponents by filing cases for punitive measures against them. The fact that the highest state officials regarded such public criticism as detrimental to national interests and appealed to law enforcement agencies for defense was a matter of particular concern.

In 2005, Lithuania made significant progress in improving the legal basis to deal with cases of discrimination and intolerance, which was particularly strengthened by the new Law on Equal Opportunities. However, Lithuania remains one of the most intolerant countries in Europe, with intolerance against ethnic and religious minorities rapidly increasing.

In 2005, children and women remained among the most vulnerable social groups. A matter of particular concern is the scale of violence against members of these groups. The fact that Lithuania has remained a country of source, transit and destination for human trafficking, with women and girls as the most frequent victims, is very troubling.

In 2005, the number of cases of inhumane and degrading behavior by police officers did not decrease. Proper detention conditions for convicted persons, their right to health care and social integration after their release were not guaranteed. The absence of an independent authority that could conduct regular visits to places of detention without prior notice also contributed to the failure to ensure the rights of convicted persons.

Similar to 2004, the rights of crime victims for assistance and support, especially in ensuring legal support and recovery of damages in cases of violent crimes, remained an unimplemented declaration. The right of victims of crime to be informed of the release of a suspect or convicted person from a detention facility has not been implemented either.

In 2005, there were serious violations of human rights in psychiatric institutions. The system of mental healthcare in Lithuania continued to rely on large closed mental healthcare institutions. This approach is in direct conflict with a modern health and social policy which is based on the principle of autonomy of an individual, bestowal of power, and the right to live in the least restrictive environment possible. Due to faulty legal regulation the protection of legally incapacitated individuals continues to be a particularly problematic area.

See the full text of the Overview


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Human Rights in Lithuania 2004: Overview

HRMI has prepared its second report on human rights implementation in Lithuania. The overview focuses on problematic areas and formulates recommendations for improvements.

This overview identifies the main violations of human rights in 2004 concerning the right to political participation, the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, human rights in police activities, the rights of crime victims, prisoners’ rights, discrimination, racism, anti-Semitism and the rights of vulnerable social groups (patients, children, women, disabled and elderly).

The Overview has been prepared by a group of experts, and is based on the information and data from long-term HRMI projects, daily monitoring, including media monitoring, reports of international and national governmental and non-governmental organizations and public opinion surveys.

English version of the overview here.


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Human Rights in Lithuania: 2003 Overview

On 10 June 2004, HRMI released its first assessment of the state of human rights in Lithuania. The human rights overview pays special attention to under-examined issues, such as the right to political participation, the right to privacy, the rights of crime victims, and the rights of other vulnerable groups.

The report revealed numerous violations of the right to political participation, right to respect for privacy, the right to a fair trial, the right to property, and the rights of vulnerable groups such as women, children, the elderly and crime victims.

Full text here.


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