The European Court of Human Rights rules against Lithuania in a freedom of speech case

March 27, 2023

The European Court of Human Rights has handed down a significant ruling in the case of Macatė v. Lithuania, which concerns the distribution of a children’s book of fairy tales featuring same-sex relationships.  The book’s distribution was halted soon after its publication in 2013 and resumed a year later only after being labelled as potentially harmful to children under the age of 14. This case marks the first time the Court has assessed restrictions on literature about same-sex relationships that are specifically written for children.

Lithuania violated article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights

In its recent judgement, the Court found unanimously that the measures taken against the book violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression. The Court held that the intention behind the restrictions was to limit children’s access to information depicting same-sex relationships as equal to different-sex relationships.

The Court rejected the Government’s argument that certain passages of the book, such as a princess and a shoemaker’s daughter sleeping in each other’s arms after their wedding, were sexually explicit. Additionally, the Court was not persuaded by the Government’s argument that the book promoted same-sex families over others. On the contrary, the fairy tales advocated for respect and acceptance of all members of society in a fundamental aspect of their lives, which is a committed relationship.

The Court affirms the paramount importance of freedom of expression

In concluding that the restrictions had no legitimate aim, the Court affirmed that the protection of freedom of expression is paramount in a democratic society. The judgement underscored the need for national authorities to carefully consider any measures that may restrict access to information and ideas, particularly when such restrictions impact the freedom of expression of authors, publishers, and readers alike.

The Ministry of Justice of Lithuania says that it is not preparing to initiate changes to the law on the protection of minors in the near future after the Court’s ruling. The ministry did not name specific next steps, but said it plans to evaluate the application of existing regulation, the need for changes and possible alternatives.

Ruling of the European Court of Human Rights

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