In a landmark ruling, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned Lithuania’s failure to investigate online hateful comments against a gay couple.
In 2014, Pijus Beizaras posted a photograph of him kissing his partner Mangirdas Levickas on his Facebook page.
The post triggered hundreds of hateful comments. Some were about LGBT people in general while others specifically threatened the two young men, the court said in a press release.
On Tuesday the court ruled the authorities' refusal to launch a pre-trial investigation violated the couple' rights to private and family life and was being discriminatory on the ground of sexual orientation.
The Lithuanian government had argued that the applicants themselves had never lodged a criminal complaint - the case was brought by a non-governmental organisation.
The government also said the comments at issue, although deplorable, had not given rise any criminal act, according to the ruling.
But the court rejected the authorities' arguments.
"The Court found in particular that the applicants’ sexual orientation had played a role in the way they had been treated by the authorities, which had quite clearly expressed disapproval of them so publicly demonstrating their homosexuality," the court said.
The ruling was hailed as a victory by rights activists.
“Today’s judgment is ever more important in establishing State’s positive obligations in tackling hate speech against LGBTI people in Lithuania and across Council of Europe member States amidst the rise in hate in a number of countries,” said Arpi Avetisyan of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).
"I am very pleased that the European Court of Human Rights has sent such a strong message to national authorities across Europe that they must take anti-LGBTI hate speech seriously, and investigate complaints," said Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at King's College London and co-representative of the couple.