Lithuanian Law Limits Gay Information for Children

by Liudus Dapkus

Associated Press

Tuesday July 14, 2009

Lithuania's Parliament on Tuesday approved a censorship bill that aims to keep information about homosexuality away from children, angering gay rights activists who called the measure homophobic.

Vowing to defend family values in the predominantly Catholic nation, lawmakers overturned a presidential veto on the legislation, which bans publicly disseminating material deemed harmful to the mental health and "intellectual or moral development" of minors.

The measure lists 19 examples of "detrimental" information, including material that "agitates for homosexual, bisexual, and polygamous relations," instructions on how to make explosives and graphic depictions of violence or death.

It also bars information that gives credence to paranormal phenomena, hypnosis or "promotes bad eating."

While critics said the text violated the freedom of speech and international standards of human rights, others said the vague wording would make it difficult to enforce.

The text does not define "public information" in detail, though it makes references to TV programs, films, computer games and advertising as well as online and print media accessible by children.

"This is absurd. I cannot even imagine how they will implement this law," said Dainius Radzevicius, chairman of the Lithuanian Journalists Union.

Lithuania's former president rejected the bill before he left office last week, but lawmakers voted 87-6 on Tuesday to override his veto. Forty-eight lawmakers either abstained or were absent in the 141-member legislature.

It takes effect after the new president, Dalia Grybauskaite, signs it into law, which she is required to do within three days.

Supporters said the measure was necessary to defend traditional family values in the former Soviet republic of 3.4 million people, which joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

"We have finally taken a step which will help Lithuania raise healthy and mentally sound generations unaffected by the rotten culture that is now overwhelming them," said Petras Grazulis, a lawmaker who co-sponsored the bill.

Grazulis, of the right-wing populist Order and Justice Party, is also seeking a total ban of homosexuality in the Baltic country.

Intolerance toward sexual minorities remains strong in many former communist countries in Eastern Europe - not least in the Baltic region.

Lithuania has repeatedly banned gay pride parades. In neighboring Latvia, the annual gay pride parade draws twice as many protesters as supporters. In 2006, gay rights activists in Latvia's capital, Riga, were pelted with feces, eggs and insults as police stood idly by.

Boris Dittrich, an advocacy director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, urged gay and lesbians in Lithuania to challenge the so-called "Law on the Protection of Minors" in court.

"The idea behinds this law is quite homophobic," he said. "It's a violation of international human rights standards."

The new bill amends an earlier censorship law that didn't contain any references to homosexuals. It also steps up pressure on the state ethics panel tasked with reviewing questionable content to punish violators with fines, which can be challenged in court.

The text says the nature of the content must be balanced against its "scientific or artistic value" or whether there is a public interest in making it broadly available.

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