The Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information adopted in Lithuania came into force on March 1, 2010. It restricts any public dissemination of information which affects the “mental health, physical, intellectual or moral development” of children under 18.
This law, originally adopted by the Lithuanian government on July 14, 2009, has been criticized by Amnesty International and the European Parliament for its homophobic and discriminatory provisions. In its original version the law prohibited the publication of “information which agitates for homosexual, bisexual and polygamous relations” in places, including schools, public spaces and media which are accessible to persons under 18 years of age.
Amnesty International called on the authorities of Lithuania to remove all restrictions on the distribution of public information relating to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people decreed in a new law. “This law would violate the freedom of expression and will directly discriminate against people on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said John Dalhuisen, expert on discrimination at Amnesty International.
“It would stigmatize gay and lesbian people and exposes advocates for their rights to the risk of censorship and financial penalties.”
The law was described as an anachronism in the European Union by the above-mentioned entities.
New amendments go even further, however, as they would potentially criminalize almost any public expression or portrayal of, or information about, homosexuality. The amendments would effectively prevent LGBT people from accessing the appropriate information, support and protection to enable them to live their sexual orientation and gender identity. They are also likely to lead to increased discrimination and other human rights abuses, in a range of areas, including employment and the access to goods and services. “Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall the Lithuanian parliament is turning the clock back by imposing draconian limitations on the flow of information and the freedom of expression and stigmatizing part of the population,” Nicola Duckworth from Amnesty International said. “It is hard to believe that a member of the European Union should even be considering the adoption of such legislation.”
In the light of international criticism the law was amended on 28 December 2009. All direct references to the promotion of homosexuality have been removed. The legislation enumerates a number of issues which are deemed unfit for minors. The law bans the public display of information that promotes homosexuality, polygamy, the paranormal, graphic violence and unhealthy eating habits to minors. This is not limited to within classrooms but television shows, radio and print media.
However, the amended law now classifies any information which “denigrates family values” or which “encourages a concept of marriage and family other than stipulated in the Constitution … and the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania” as detrimental to children and consequently bans it from places accessible to them. As marriage is defined in Lithuanian law as the union of a man and a woman, any public promotion of same-sex partnerships, or advocacy for equality in marriage, is prohibited under the new law.
Besides Amnesty International, the law on protection of minors was also condemned by the European Parliament (EP) as discriminatory. On September 16, 2009 the European Parliament voted 349-218, with 49 abstentions, to ask that Lithuania revamp the recently passed child protection legislation to avoid any possibility of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The EP resolution stated that the Lithuanian law was “vague and legally unclear and might have lead to controversial interpretations”. That wasn’t the first time the EP has decried Lithuanian legislation on homosexuality. In the summer of 2008 the EP intervened to stop another Order and Justice proposal to remove anti-workplace discrimination laws protecting homosexuals.
The new law clearly violates the country’s international obligations to uphold freedom of expression and fight discrimination. And that is even more significant as Lithuania is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), both of which guarantee the freedom of expression. The ICCPR and ECHR, as well as several other international human rights instruments, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The law’s new version causes concerns. It has been raised by observers that even though the form of the law has changed significantly, its substance is essentially homophobic because it refers to a traditional concept of family, and restricts and excludes all LGBT families. The issue is how strictly the law is interpreted. The first test may come with a “Baltic Pride” festival, a two- day LGBT event planned for May, which will feature a conference, art exhibit and gay pride march.
As Nicola Duckworth from Amnesty International said:
“Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall the Lithuanian parliament is turning the clock back by imposing limitations on the freedom of expression and stigmatizing part of the population. It is hard to believe that a member of the European Union should even be considering the adoption of such legislation.”