What is hate speech?

Hate speech is expression that spreads, incites, encourages or justifies hatred against a person or group of persons on the basis of their identity. A person’s identity consists of attributes such as nationality, race, sexual orientation, gender, age, language, origin, social status, religion, beliefs and opinions.

The specifics and investigation of hate speech cases are discussed in detail in the methodological guidelines of the Prosecutor General‘s Office.

For the purposes of this law enforcement document, hate speech is defined as the public dissemination of information that ridicules, stigmatizes, incites hatred, incites discrimination, violence or physical violence against a group of people or a person belonging to that group on the basis of age, gender, sexual orientation and other personal identity characteristics. Such information may not be published orally, in writing or in any other form.

According to national legislation and the methodological guidelines of the Prosecutor General‘s Office, in cases of hate speech, the first step is to prove that the suspect’s prejudice, bias and hatred exceeded the limits of freedom of speech and expression.

It should be noted that hate speech, like hate crimes, differs from other criminal offences in terms of its effects and consequences (both material and immaterial) on the victims and groups of people associated with them, as it not only traumatizes but also intimidates.

The prohibition of hate speech (or speech inciting hate) is regulated by the Criminal Code. Article 170 provides for liability for “incitement against any national, racial, ethnic, religious or other group of people”.

This law prohibits incitement to hatred or discrimination against a group of people or a person belonging to such a group on the grounds of age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, nationality, language, origin, social status, faith, beliefs or opinions.

Criminal acts (dissemination of hate speech) include:

  • the distribution, production, acquisition, dispatch, transport or possession of items that ridicule, stigmatize, incite hatred or incite discrimination;
  • incitement to violence and physical attacks;
  • publicly ridiculing, stigmatizing, inciting hatred or discrimination;
  • public incitement to violence or physical attacks, or the financing or material support of such activities.

Often, hate speech is mistakenly contrasted with freedom of speech or the expression of opinion. Lithuanian law defines freedom of speech and opinion as follows:

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. According to the Lithuanian Constitution, everyone has the right to hold and freely express his or her own beliefs. They must not be prevented from seeking, receiving and disseminating information and ideas. Freedom to hold opinions, receive and impart information may not be restricted except by law, where necessary to protect a person’s health, honor and dignity, private life, morals or the constitutional order. (Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, Article 25).

It is important to remember that the Constitution defines when expression is no longer free speech. Freedom of expression is incompatible with criminal acts such as incitement to national, racial, religious or social hatred, violence and discrimination, defamation and disinformation.

Opinion – a publicly held view, opinion, judgement, understanding, thoughts or comments on ideas of a general nature, assessments of facts and data, phenomena or events, conclusions or observations about knowledge relating to actual events. An opinion is usually subjective and therefore not subject to the criteria of truth and accuracy, but must be expressed honestly and ethically, without deliberately concealing or distorting facts and data (Law on the Provision of Information to the Public).

Criticism of a person – examining and evaluating a person or his activities without insulting the person’s honor and dignity, without violating his private life, without impairing his business reputation (Law on the Provision of Information to the Public).

Citizens have the right to criticize the work of public bodies or officials, and to appeal against their decisions. It is forbidden to prosecute for criticism (Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, Article 33).