Lithuania

 CountryType of Law 
 
 

Criminal Defamation

1. Criminal defamation and insult laws

The Lithuanian Criminal Code provides the following offence:

Libel (Art. 154): Libel is defined as the spreading of “false information about another person that could arouse contempt for this person or humiliate him or undermine trust in him”. The penalty for libel is a fine , arrest or imprisonment for up to one year.

When libel consists of an accusation of the “commission of a serious or grave crime” and is committed via the media or other publication, the penalty is a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

In Lithuania, libel is generally concerned with the dissemination of information (facts and data), but the Lithuanian Supreme Court has emphasised that the essential characteristic is the existence of “objective criteria”. Libel can thus refer to dissemination of specific, false information (e.g. that an official committed a particular act of bribery) that can be verified, but also, as frequently noted in the Court’s case law, to generalised statements unaccompanied by precise accusations or concrete facts that are nevertheless objective in the sense of being verifiable (e.g. the vague accusation that an official is corrupt).

Criminal Defamation of Public Officials

Humiliating “in an abusive manner by an action, word of mouth or in writing” a court or judge executing justice is a criminal offence under Art. 232 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code. The punishment is a fine, arrest or imprisonment for up to two years.

Additionally, the Lithuanian Code of Administrative Offences prescribes administrative penalties for insulting bailiffs and police officers.

Note that Lithuania’s Law on the Provision of Information to the Public states that every person “shall have the right to publicly criticise the activities of State and local government institutions and agencies, as well as the activity of officers”. It also prohibits prosecution for criticism.

Criminal Defamation of the Head of State

No (criminal) provisions.

Defaming of insulting the President of Lithuania through the media is an administrative offence under Art. 214(6) of the Lithuanian Code of Administrative Offences. The punishment is a fine of €144 to €289. Repeat offenders face a higher fine.

Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols

Publicly tearing down, tattering, breaking, destroying, soiling, or otherwise desecrating the state flag or state emblem of the Republic of Lithuania, or publicly ridiculing the national anthem of Lithuania, is a criminal offence under Art. 127 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code. The punishment is a fine, restriction of liberty, arrest or imprisonment for up to two years.

It should be noted that this law primarily punishes physically damaging or misusing state symbols, but also contains a “catch-all” clause that could theoretically be applied to verbal forms of insult.

Criminal Defamation of Foreign Heads of State

No provisions.

Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols

Tearing down, tattering, breaking, destroying, soiling or otherwise desecrating an officially displayed state emblem or flag of a foreign state, the flag of the European Union or of an international public organisation is a criminal offence under Art. 128 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code. The punishment is a fine, restriction of liberty, arrest, or imprisonment for up to two years.

It should be noted that this law primarily punishes physically damaging or misusing state symbols, but also contains a “catch-all” clause that could theoretically be applied to verbal forms of insult.

Criminal Defamation of the Deceased

Making false statements about the deceased that “could arouse contempt for or undermine respect to the memory of the deceased” is a criminal offence under Art. 313 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code. The punishment is community service, fine, restriction of liberty or arrest.”

Criminal Blasphemy

No provisions.

However, Art. 170 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code prohibits “ridiculing, expressing contempt for, urging hatred of, or inciting discrimination against” persons on account of their “religions, convictions or views”. The punishment is restriction of liberty of imprisonment for up to one year. If committed publicly, the maximum term of imprisonment is increased to three years.

Criminal Statistics

The following are official data on convictions for selected articles of the Criminal Code for the year 2014 from Statistics Denmark, provided upon request to the International Press Institute .

• For Arts. 267-270 (defamation and insult), there was 1 conviction resulting in 1 criminal fine.
• For Art. 121 (insult of a public official), there were 43 convictions, resulting in 7 prison sentences and 9 criminal fines. These numbers do not include data for insult of a police officer, considered under the same article, for which there were 289 convictions resulting in 46 prison sentences and 217 fines.
• For Art. 115 (lèse-majesté), there were 0 convictions.
• For Art. 140 (blasphemy), there were 0 convictions.
• For Art. 274 (insulting the honour of the dead), there were 0 convictions.

Criminal Law and Media

1. General notes

The Supreme Court of Lithuania often takes into account, cites and applies the standards developed in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the European Court of Justice.

The Supreme Court has emphasised in both criminal and civil libel cases, that Art. 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and Art. 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) guarantee the right to freedom of expression, which encompasses the right to have personal beliefs and freely express them, to freely hold (have) an opinion, and to receive and disseminate information and ideas. However, the Court has noted that both instruments allow for the restriction of this right, so long as such a restriction is provided in law and necessary to achieving certain aims in democratic society, namely, to preserve human heath, dignity, honour or morals, or to protect the constitutional order.

Application of criminal law
The Supreme Court has held that the imposition of criminal liability for offences to reputation is a particularly severe measure, which should only be applied where necessary and proportionate in a democratic society and to protect other human rights and public interests. In the Court’s view , less severe measures of the limitation of the right to expression have to be exhausted before turning to criminal punishment (for example, those enshrined in Art. 2.24 of the Civil Code, such as the right to refutation).

Definition of criminal libel; defence of truth
The Supreme Court has held that libel is an intentional crime. The object of this crime is the honour and dignity of a person, which are violated when, according to objective criteria, negative information about a person is disseminated that may humiliate him or undermine confidence in him or bring him into disrepute in the eyes of society. This information must also be untrue. The crime of libel is also committed in cases when information is disseminated indicating that the person has (falsely) committed a severe or very severe crime. In general, information refers to facts and data about phenomena, events, or a person’s actions or qualities. Such facts and data are susceptible to proof of truth, the existence of which may be verified by evidence and objectively stated.

Separation of fact and value
The Supreme Court has held that when qualifying certain actions as libel, it is important to distinguish between information (facts and data) and opinion. An opinion represents an understanding or evaluation of, or a point of view toward, certain facts and values, comments, observations or remarks. An opinion is subjective, and the criterion of truth is not applicable to one’s opinion; however, the opinion has to be based on facts and must be provided without deliberately distorting those facts. There is no criminal responsibility for voicing (disseminating) one’s opinion on certain real (correct/accurate) information .

Public figures
Specifically referencing ECtHR case law, the Supreme Court has emphasised that when criminal liability for the protection of honour and dignity is applied to information regarding a person whose activities may potentially be of public interest (e. g. politicians, other public persons), such protection must be evaluated keeping in mind the interests of free discussion on political issues. The limits of criticizing a politician may therefore in some instances be regarded as broader than those of a private person.

2. Statistics

n/a

3. Selected cases

In 2011, the Vilnius District Court convicted journalist Gintaras Visockas of criminally libelling former Lithuanian presidential candidate Ceslovas Jezerkas, a former general in the Soviet Army who had also been a wrestling champion. In an article published on the web portal Slaptai (“Secret”), Visockas wrote that, in the Soviet Union, combat-sport athletes had been controlled by the KGB. Jezerkas sued for libel and the court agreed that an average reader would have interpreted that Jezerkas had worked for the KGB. Visockas was ordered to pay court fees, legal costs, and non-pecuniary damages amounting nearly 25,000 litas . Visockas requested to replace the court fees with a jail term, but this request was denied by the courts.

In June 2012, Dainius Radzevičius, president of the Lithuanian Journalists’ Union, was convicted of criminally libelling Vitas Tomkus, editor of the newspaper On his personal blog, Radzevičius had commented on a WikiLeaks cable that claimed certain Lithuanian media outlets, including Respublika, had blackmailed businesses in order to secure advertising contracts. Radzevičius was ordered to pay a fine of 2,600 litas and pay 10,000 litas in moral damages to Tomkus, who had requested 1 million litas.

Recent Legal Changes

In June 2015, the Lithuanian Parliament repealed Arts. 155 (insult) and 290 (insult of a civil servant) of the Lithuanian Criminal Code .

Notes and Acknowledgements

Information for Lithuania was originally collected by IPI as part of the “Out of Balance” report, published in January 2015 with support from the European Commission and incorporating research contributed by Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and by the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. This entry was later expanded and updated by IPI as part of a study commissioned by the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Last update: March 2017.

The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at info(at)ipi.media.

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