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

April 18, 2018

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.