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The adopted amendments to the Lithuanian Civil Code constitute a threat to free speech, says civil law expert Valentinas Mikelėnas, professor at the Vilnius University.
Magazines at a shopping centre
Magazines at a shopping centre
© DELFI / Domantas Pipas

"I believe there is a threat that the (law) may bring problems. First of all, it prioritizes compensation of damages, while the old version first of all spoke about non-material defense methods, such as statement of misleading information. The bill first of all speaks about compensation of material damages," Mikelėnas told journalists after the meeting held at the President's Office on Monday to discuss the amendments.

President Dalia Grybauskaitė and the experts discussed the changes to the Civil Code on insults of public figures. Journalists have asked the president to veto the amendments, saying the law could encourage politicians to take critics to court.

Presidential spokeswoman Daiva Ulbinaitė said after the meeting that the president's choice to sign or veto the amendments would be announced in the coming days.

The parliament adopted the changes, saying that, with insults excluded from the Penal Code, it has to be punishable by civil liability. Media figures criticized the move the exclude the provision, which exempts a person from civil liability for spreading false information about a public figure and his or her state or public activities if that person proves that he or she acted in good faith with the aim of informing the general public about that public figure and his or her activities.

Nearly 100 journalists and editors have urged the president to leave the earlier provision, saying it ensured a proper balance of interests between the right to disseminate information and the right to defend honor and dignity.

"Journalists have asked the president and members of Seimas to leave the provision, which was in effect for over a dozen years that suggests exempting journalists of civil liability, if they manage to prove they worked honestly and disseminated information about a public figure's public activities that is significant to the society. There is liability for conscious dissemination of misleading information with the objective of humiliating, defiling or slandering a person, it exists and nobody wants it canceled," who Vaidotas Beniušis, deputy director of BNS news agency who initiated the media community's address on the veto.

Karolina Bubnytė, the government's representative at the European Court of Human Rights, noted that media freedom and freedom of self-expression are considered fundamental freedoms of a democratic society, adding that Lithuania would not make a good showing with such amendments of the Civil Code.

Some politicians say that dismay over free speech was ungrounded. Conservative MP Stasys Šedbaras says that the provision had been included at the government's initiative in light of the Supreme Court's practice, therefore, would be applied in any case, with the margin between criticism and insult always determined by court.

PM Saulius Skvernelis says that the parliament may still have to improve the law, as the current wording may be interpreted in a few ways.

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