Vilnius County Court: Fairytale Book Featuring Stories about Same-sex Couples was Censored Reasonably

On March 3d, 2016 Vilnius County Court rejected the appeal, filed by the Lithuanian author Neringa Dangvydė, regarding the decision of the District Court of Vilnius City that the publisher of the fairytale book “Gintarinė širdis” (“Amber heart”), the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences, had the right to suspend the distribution of the publication, and such decision is not discriminatory.

According to the Vilnius County Court, the suspension of the book distribution was caused by objective circumstances and not discriminatory grounds, as claimed by its author. “The distribution of the book was suspended due to the fact that the information included in the book may have a negative effect on minors,” states the Court’s judgement. According to the Court, the publisher of the book that contains magical stories for children about people with disabilities, same-sex couples, Roma, people with a different skin colour and other socially vulnerable groups, the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences, made a decision to suspend the distribution of the book and remove the information about the publication from the University’s database in agreement with the law, governing the publisher’s obligations.

The Vilnius County Court argues that a group of conservative MPs informed the publisher about the book’s negative content. “The fact that the information in the book is to be assessed as having a negative impact on minors was confirmed by the Lithuanian Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics,” noted the Court. In 2014 the Lithuanian Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics concluded that two fairy tales that promote tolerance for same-sex couples are harmful to minors and should be marked by the index “N-14”. According to experts, stories written by the Lithuanian author Neringa Dangvydė violate the Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information by “encouraging the concept of entry into a marriage and creation of a family other than stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania”. In addition, the experts consider them to be “harmful, invasive, direct and manipulative”.

Moreover, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania obligated the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences to implement the measures stated in the Lithuanian Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics’ decision. In other case, the representatives of the University would have risked responsibility.

According to the Vilnius County Court, the fairytale book was later re-released and distributed freely. The Court also found no evidence that the suspension of the publication was discriminatory. “Such claims are unfounded. The defendant was not obliged to distribute the book. As an autonomic university the defendant had the discretion to distribute the book or to stop its distribution,” states the Court’s judgement.

Furthermore, the judges insisted that the author, Neringa Dangvydė, interpreted the conclusion of the Constitutional Court of The Republic of Lithuania regarding the constitutional concept of the family “incorrectly”. “Neither the Constitution nor the Civil Code addresses any other concept of a family than a marriage between a man and a woman,” concluded the Court.

It is important to note that in 2011 the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania ruled that the constitutional concept of family cannot be based solely on the institution of marriage. According to the Court, the fact that marriage and family are set in the same paragraph of the Constitution indicates an integral connection between the two. However, marriage is only one of several possible family models. The Court stated that the constitutional concept of family is based on mutual responsibility, understanding, emotional attachment, support and similar connections among family members. It also includes voluntary decisions to take upon some rights and responsibilities. All these elements make up to the essence of a relationship. Therefore, the form that a relationship takes upon bears no significance with regard to the concept of family.

This is the third time when experts quote the norm of the Law on the Protection of Minors Against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information as the reason for censoring the LGBT* related public information. In September 2013 the same experts found that one of the two promotional videos of the Baltic Pride 2013 March for Equality that took place in Vilnius last July were harmful to minors and should have been broadcasted only during the night hours.

In 2014 two Lithuanian commercial channels refused to air a video clip, produced by LGL, which was a part of a social campaign “Change It”. Having received recommendations from the Office of Journalist Ethics, Lithuanian television networks refused to air the clip, citing the Law on the Protection of Minors Against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information as justification. The restriction of LGBT* people’s freedoms of speech and expression in our country was condemned by both the Lithuanian Psychological Association and the international human rights organizations “Amnesty International”, “Human Rights Watch”, and “ILGA-Europe”.

The video clip for LGL’s social campaign “Change it” was finally aired without restrictions after six months since its creation. The video clip that urges viewers to recognize the diversity of society, acknowledge LGBT* people, and support the implementation of LGBT* rights in Lithuania was broadcasted by the network “Info TV” during the most-watched timeslot in February, 2015.