Articles 25 and 44 of the Lithuanian Constitution protect the freedom of expression (see chapter 4.1.1). Article 37 of the Constitution protects rights of national minorities: “Citizens who belong to ethnic communities shall have the right to foster their language, culture, and customs.”
In 2015, amendments to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania, which decriminalised the offense of private persons and public officials, came into force. According to the Lithuanian Human Rights Monitoring Institute, this was a significant step in the field of the freedom of expression, because it ensures that exercising this freedom will not lead to disproportionately applied criminal liability. After the decriminalisation of the offense, persons still have the possibility to defend their honour and dignity in civil courts.
The self-regulating authorities of journalists, public relations specialists and advertisers supervise limits of freedom of expression and other ethic issues of public communication. The self-regulatory body of media is the Association of Ethics in the Provision of Information to the Public. The stakeholders of the Association are public information producers, disseminators, journalists and other participants of the media sector, which seeks to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Code of Ethics in Providing Information to the Public, foster principles of ethics in the provision of information to the public in public information activities and raise public awareness for the evaluation of public information processes and the use of public information.
In March 2005, the self-regulatory institution Lithuanian Advertising Bureau was founded on the initiative of Lithuanian advertising agencies, media and advertisers. The Bureau is responsible for the administration of a self-regulatory system and the application of the National Code of Advertising Practice, which is based on the Code of Advertising Practice of the International Chamber of Commerce. The main aim of this self-regulatory institution is to ensure a relevant and effective system of self-regulation, which could enable the advertising industry to regulate its social responsibilities by itself, employing respective fair-trade principles, actively promoting the highest ethical standards in commercial communications and protecting consumers’ interests.
The official institution of supervision of journalist ethics established by the Seimas is the Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics. The functions of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics are: investigate the complaints (applications) of the persons concerned whose honour and dignity have been degraded in the media; examine the complaints (applications) of the persons concerned in relation to violation of their right to protection of privacy or processing of their personal data in the media; submit proposals to the Seimas and other state institutions for improving the Law on the Provision of Information to the Public and other laws and legal acts regulating the information policy; etc.
The civil right to participate in cultural life and the right to equally accessible and available culture, libraries and information, and leisure services are emphasised in the Lithuanian Cultural Policy Strategy 2030. The first objective of the strategy is to strengthen the cooperation between the state, municipal and non-governmental sectors, reducing cultural exclusion and inequalities. It is stated in the strategy that residents of different regions of Lithuania must have more equal opportunities to participate in cultural life and receive high quality public services. To this end, it is planned in the Strategy to create a basic set of cultural services that would be approved by Law and offered throughout the Republic of Lithuania.
Despite the activity of the above-mentioned institutions related to cultural rights and ethic, some cultural events during the last years raised wide public discussions and revealed a controversial understanding of freedom of expression in Lithuania. In autumn 2012, Romeo Castalucci’s play “On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God” included in the international theatre festival Sirenos in Vilnius evoked extremely fervent debates among theatre audiences, art critics, cultural society, and the Church. Before the first performance in Lithuanian National Drama Theatre, the opponents of the play organised a protest campaign. Although nobody had seen this play in Lithuania before, the protest was prompted by rumours and controversial reviews in foreign press. Members of the Lithuanian Parliament joined the fight of the public against the play and prepared a resolution that urged Lithuanian society “to boycott the play that offends Christians, rises discord in society, instigates a religious dissent and potentially violates the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania”. The Parliament of Lithuania discussed this resolution in three meetings, spent more than one hour for the issue, but did not adopt it, as one of the Parliament fractions requested a break till the next meeting that was scheduled after the play is presented to the public. When the Parliament did not adopt the resolution, 35 members of Parliament published it with their signatures. The Lithuanian arts news portal Menufaktura.lt published the records of the Parliament debates about the play “as the documents of a historical event that shows the attitude towards censorship and art”.
Other prominent cases of freedom of expression restrictions in 2016–2019 demonstrated that the limits of the freedom are understood quite narrow in Lithuania and more extreme forms of expression received disproportionate prohibitions and punishment-based responses from the authorities. Performers, designers, advertisers, and social actions initiators had to defend their freedom of expression in courts and these cases demonstrated that law enforcement authorities are not always able to distinguish permissible self-expression, criticism or black humour from hate speech, bullying or contempt.