Lithuanian Court: “A Public Same-Sex Kiss Photo Encourages People to Post Negative Comments”

On February 18th, 2015 the District Court of Klaipėda Region affirmed the order by the District Court’s of Klaipėda City to dismiss a formal complaint about hateful online comments regarding a same-sex kiss picture by two students. The initial complaint was filed by the national LGBT* rights organization LGL. As stated in the current judgment, a person who posts a same-sex kiss photo in a public FaceBook profile is “intentionally trying to tease or to shock people, who have different beliefs, or to encourage them to post negative comments”. The ruling is final and, thus, not subject to appeal.

The final court has also concluded that “a person who posts a same-sex kiss photo in a public FaceBook profile “has to anticipate that such an eccentric act would clearly discourage the common understanding and tolerance amongst people in our society who have different views and opinions”.

On December 12th, 2014 LGL submitted a complaint to the Prosecutor General’s Office informing them that the posting of the aforementioned photo was followed by public comments that incited hatred, mockery, humiliation, discrimination, as well as the use of physical violence on grounds of sexual orientation. In its complaint LGL emphasized that some comments included language that encouraged to discriminate and to physically assault gay people; therefore, it violated the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania.

The LGL’s Board Chair Vladimir Simonko had stressed that the comments posted regarding the photo incited hatred, discrimination and violence against a group of people: “The use of certain terms (i.e. “burn”, “destroy”, “smash their heads”) demonstrated a particular bias against homosexual orientation and clearly expressed promotion of brutality.” The District Court of Klaipėda Region determined that none of the comments posted under the photo “promote hatred and discrimination or indicate a direct intent to incite violence against homosexual persons”.

The initial Prosecutor had refused to initiate a pre-trial investigation stating that “no indications of a crime were detected since commentators did not provoke against homosexual people”. According to the Prosecutor, the commentators “used inappropriate words to express disapproval to homosexual relationships. However, the use of swear words is not a basis for criminal responsibility”. The comments were not investigated as a whole, since they were posted by 29 individual internet users. When the decision by the Prosecutor was appealed before the first instance court, the District Court of Klaipėda City affirmed the Prosecutor’s conclusion ruling that “a person who publishes private information on a social network, practices the freedom of expression, has to take into account the fact that rights are inseparable from the obligation to respect other people’s beliefs and traditions”. This ruling was further confirmed by the last instance court by stating that “the general public especially treasure traditional family values, also enshrined in the Constitution.”

The national LGBT* rights organization LGL reminds that online comments inciting hatred on the basis of sex, sexual orientation,  race, nationality, ethnic origin, language, social status, religion, beliefs or opinions, are punishable under the criminal law. LGL encourages the victims of hate speech or hate crimes to report the incidents to the law enforcement officials or to fill in the LGL’s anonymous hate crime reporting form.