Lithuania’s Ban on ‘Homosexual Propaganda’ is under EU Scrutiny

Following a submission to the European Commission by the national LGBT* organization LGL, the EU institutions will follow closely the ‘homosexual propaganda’ legislation in Lithuania, reports Lithuanian news agency “BNS.”

The Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the European Parliament will discuss the situation in Lithuanian situation on Thursday. The European Commission (EC) is working with Vilnius in order to assess, whether the restrictions of positive information on LGBT* issue are in line with the EU acquis. The Lithuanian Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information classifies any information which “denigrates family values” or “encourages a concept of marriage and family other than the one stipulated in the Constitution or in the Civil Code” as detrimental to the minors.

A group of MEPs is appealing to the European Commission, alleging that this law prohibits information relating to LGBT* people from being displayed in places accessible to minors. MEPs also note that television networks based their refusal to broadcast LGL’s social video about LGBT* people on grounds of these legal provisions.

The European Commission responded by indicating that it is “communicating with Lithuanian authorities in order to clarify whether the law is compatible with the Audiovisual Resource Directive,” which allows for the restriction only of information that can “seriously harm the physical, mental or moral development of minors.”

The disproportionate interference with the freedom of speech and expression regarding LGBT* groups in Lithuania was condemned by both the Lithuanian Psychological Association and the international human rights organizations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and ILGA-Europe. On November 25th, 2014 the Lithuanian Psychological Association issued a statement indicating that LGL’s video has “no contents that would be scientifically proven to have negative impact on the emotional, spiritual and psychological development and health of minors.” On the contrary, the association claimed that the prohibition to discuss LGBT* issues in the public is contrary to the best interests of the child as limiting their right to information.

The national LGBT* rights organization LGL applied before the European Commission (EC) under the European Union (EU) directive infringement procedure on October 25th, 2014. A formal complaint, prepared in collaboration with the European LGBTI organization ILGA-Europe, indicated that the Lithuanian authorities had violated the EU founding Treaty, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) while disproportionately limiting the LGBT* community’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. This right is guaranteed to every European citizen, regardless of, inter alia, sexual orientation, and the protection of minors cannot constitute a disproportionate interference with this right.

A number of legislative restrictions have contributed to LGL’s decision to address the European Commission (EC). Two Lithuanian commercial channels refused to air a video, produced by LGL, which is a part of a social campaign “Change It”. This video aims at challenging negative attitudes towards the local LGBT* community. On September 15th, 2014 the experts of the Lithuanian Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics decided that the video has detrimental effect on minors. Thus the Lithuanian television channels concluded that the social video could only be broadcasted after 11 PM marked with an “S” symbol (i.e. “adult content”).

Guided by the relevant provisions of the Treaty of the European Union, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, in accordance with the international human rights obligations and the Directive 2010/13/EU (i.e. Audiovisual Media Services Directive), the EU is committed to respecting, protecting and promoting the right to freedom of expression within its borders. The Audiovisual Services Directive establishes the duty to ensure appropriate protection of minors under Article 27, and Recital 60 indicates that this must be balanced with freedom of expression.

In addition to implementing their duties under the scope of the Article 27 of the Directive 2010/13/EU, the Lithuanian authorities are obliged to complying with the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the implementation of the EU acquis. The broadcasting restrictions of the above mentioned video are disproportionate, i.e. contrary to the Articles 11 and 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

LGL hopes that the focus of the EU institutions on the violations of the EU fundamental rights in Lithuania will draw the attention of the Lithuania authorities to the fact that the ban on positive information about LGBT* issues does not contribute to promoting acceptance and tolerance in the society. According to the Board Chair of LGL Vladimir Simonko, freedom of expression is the fundamental right for every European citizen: “Indispensable for individual dignity and fulfilment, this fundamental freedom also constitutes essential foundation for inclusive democracy and participation in public affairs. All Member States of the European Union, including Lithuania, have an obligation to respect, protect and promote the right to freedom of expression.”