Lithuania

 CountryType of Law 
 
 

Criminal Defamation

Defamation remains a criminal offence in Lithuania (punishable with imprisonment).

The Lithuanian Criminal Code provides for one defamation-related 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 for libel is a , , 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 punishment 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 forup to two years. Additionally, the Lithuanian 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

Provisions (administrative) on the books.

Defaming of insulting the President of Lithuania through the media is an administrative offence under Art. 214, par. 6 of the Lithuanian . The punishment is a fine of 500 to 1,000 litas. 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 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

Provisions on the books.

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 Procedure

Prosecutions for criminal defamation are generally conducted as private prosecutions.

 

Statistics on Application

 

Civil Defamation

Lithuania does not have a specific civil defamation law. Honour and dignity are protected under Part Two of the . Art. 2.24 provides that where erroneous data capable of damaging a person’s honour and dignity is publicised, the person shall have the right to demand its refutation. The person shall also have the right to both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. The publicised information is presumed false until the person providing the information can prove otherwise. The provisions under Art. 2.24 on defamation also extend to the protection of someone’s professional reputation (Art. 2.24, par. 8).

Lithuania’s Law on the Provision of Information to the Public sets out the duties and rights of the press. Art. 19 prohibits the publication of “disinformation and information which is slanderous and offensive to a person or which degrades his honour or dignity”. Art. 53 states that any damages due to violations of the Law are to be compensated according to the terms of the Civil Code.

Art. 3 states that the activities of the media are subject to the Constitution and any relevant international treaties as well as principles of tolerance and respect; that public information must be presented in a “fair, accurate and impartial manner”; and that the right to free expression may be restricted by the need to protect private life and dignity.

Damages

There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation in Lithuanian law.

The Civil Code provides for the right to claim pecuniary (material) and non-pecuniary (moral) damages for defamation (Art. 2.24, par. 1).  These provisions also apply to legal persons (Civil Code Art. 2.24, par. 8).

Statutory defences

Truth

Art. 2.24, par. 1 of the Civil Code provides for the defence of truth, but allegedly defamatory information is presumed to be false and the burden of proof lies with the defendant.

Reasonable publication                                   

Art. 2.24, par. 6 of the Civil Code provides for the defence of public interest in exempting a person who civil liability who publicised erroneous data that relates “to public persons and his State or public activities” they shall be exempt from civil liability so long as the publication was made in good faith and intended to shed light on the public person and their activities for the sake of the public.

Art. 2.24, par. 5 states that the mass media shall only be held liable to pay pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage in defamation claims where they knew, or should have known, that the published information was false. This provision is lex specialis for the instances when defamation is committed through media                                                                          

Honest opinion (fair comment)

See below under “Case law” and “Privilege”.

Art. 9 of the Law on Provision of Information to the Public provides 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 states that “[p]ersecution for criticism shall be prohibited in the Republic of Lithuania”.

Privileged reporting

The civil provisions on defamation (Art. 2.24 of the Civil Code) do not apply to “participants of judicial hearings, speeches delivered at court hearings or data made public in judicial documents” (Art. 2.24, par. 9).

In addition, Art. 54 of the Law on Provision of Information to the Public provides that media shall not be liable for the publication of false information “where they have indicated the source of information and it has been”:

•  provided in official or publicly available documents of state and municipal institutions and agencies, political parties, trade unions and associations or other persons;
•  publicly stated in open meetings, sessions, press conferences, demonstrations and other events, and the producer of public information has not distorted the statements made. In this case, all responsibility shall fall on the organisers of the aforementioned events and persons who have made the information public;
•  published earlier in other media if the information has not been refuted in the media wherein it has been published;
•  published by participants of live programmes and internet conferences, viewers of interactive television or users of information society media who are not related to the producer of public information;
•  published in a special election campaign programme which has not been produced by the producer of public information;
•  presented in non-anonymous advertising announcements;
•  presented in the form of an opinion, commentary or evaluation.

 

Media Cases and Case Law

Key principles of case law

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 , in both criminal and civil libel cases, that Article 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and Article 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 , 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

In its ruling of 30 December 2008, No. 2K-7-437/2008, the Supreme Court 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 (see rulings of 2 April 2013, No. 2K-171/2013, and 30 December 2008, No. 2K-7-437/2008).

Application of civil defamation law

In its ruling on 17 February 2004, No. 3K-3-56, the Supreme Court held that under Civil Code Art. 2.24, the violation of a person’s right occurs when certain untrue information that is humiliating or degrading is disseminated to third parties. This is based on provisions of substantive law (Civil Code Art. 2.24(1) and Art. 6.250(1)) that establish duties and rights of the participants of legal relationship, and determine the limits of possible and permissible behaviour and responsibility for violation of the embedded standards.

Public figures

Specifically referencing ECtHR case law, the Supreme Court has  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.

Reasonable publication, journalistic duty, and the public interest

In a ruling in a civil case on 19 February 2014 No. 3K-3-30/2014, the Supreme Court, referring to the case law of the ECtHR, emphasising that the right to free expression is not absolute, and by exercising this right persons (both journalists and others) must act in good faith with regard to the addressee of the information; must try to provide accurate and reliable, trustworthy information; and must comply with the standards of ethics. The Supreme Court noted, again referring to the ECtHR, that whether criticism is allowable in democratic society – even criticism discussing important issues that require public attention and are in the public interest – depends on the requirement to respect the reputation of other persons and avoid offensive expressions (reference made to ECtHR judgement Constantinescu v. Romania [2000]).

Recent examples of cases involving the media

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 LTL 25,000 (approx. €7,200 under current rates. 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 to pay a fine of 2,600 litas (approx. €750) and pay 10,000 litas (approx. €2,896) in moral damages to Tomkus, who had requested 1 million litas (approx. €290,000).

 

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. The move followed a joint mission by IPI and Article 19 in May 2015 to advocate for legal reform.

 

Legal Sources and Acknowledgements

Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)

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 ipi[at]freemedia.at.

Information on Lithuania was last updated in January 2015.

 

It should be noted that under the Lithuanian Criminal Code, same criminal offences can be treated either as crimes or as misdemeanors, depending on the sanction provided for committing the offence. A crime is a dangerous act or omission forbidden under the Lithuanian Criminal Code punishable with custodial sentence, while a misdemeanor is a dangerous act or omission forbidden under the Lithuanian Criminal Code punishable with non-custodial sentence, with the exception of arrest (Arts. 11 and 12). Under the provisions of Art. 154, libel is considered a crime in all cases.
Under the Criminal Code, fines are calculated in terms of “minimum standard of living” as determined by the court. As both libel is considered to be a misdemeanour or minor crimes, the maximum fine in either case will be 100 MSLs (Art. 47).
An arrest refers to “short-term imprisonment served in a short-term detention facility”. The term of such imprisonment shall be set by the court, but shall range from 15 to 90 days for a crime and 10 to 45 days for a misdemeanour (Art. 49).
Code of Administrative Offences (Administracinių teisės pažeidimų kodeksas), No. I-545 , 18.07.1994, Official Gazette., 1994, no. 58-1132 (Lithuanian).
Code of Administrative Offences (Administracinių teisės pažeidimų kodeksas), No. I-545 , 18.07.1994, Official Gazette., 1994, no. 58-1132 (Lithuanian).
Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania, VIII-1864, as per 18.07.2000 (English).
See rulings of 24 April 2012, No. 2A-3/2012, and 23 March, 2005, No. 3K-3-205.
Supreme Court ruling of 24 April 2012, No. 2A-3/2012.
Supreme Court ruling of 24 April 2012, No. 2A-3/2012.
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