Concerns after independent Russian TV station becomes inaccessible
On 13th December 2022, Lithuania extended the state of the emergency on the borders with Belarus and Russia until 17th March 2023. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, these measures had already been extended in September 2022 due to migrants being pushed by Belarus through the Lithuanian border as a ‘hybrid attack’. Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė said that there had been no improvement in Lithuania’s neighbouring borders situation since the state of emergency was first introduced in February 2021. "It has only worsened as additional Russian forces emerged in Belarus, and there’s certainly no reason to say that the security situation has somehow improved," she said.
On 11th January 2023, the Lithuanian government approved the Interior Ministry's proposal on the migrant pushback policy. If the draft amendments are approved by the parliament (Seimas), they will come into force in June 2023. The new legislation would allow the authorities to deny entry to foreign nationals who intend to or have crossed the state border outside designated places or in violation of the border crossing procedure, during a state emergency. Human rights defenders argue that the amendments effectively legalise pushbacks, and this violates international human rights law. Meanwhile, as few manage to cross the border and those who manage to cross tend not to stay in the country but leave for Western Europe, Lithuania keeps closing down its migration facilities.
Fight against Russian propaganda
The Lithuanian government plans to set up a new centre to track, expose and coordinate measures to counter Russian propaganda. In early December 2022, the Seimas approved a new disinformation management model. Russia finances a huge network of pro-Kremlin activists spreading false or distorted information in neighbouring countries. "Russian propaganda always remains opportunistic, they're quite adaptable and their narrative selection is mostly just running a bunch of [narratives] and seeing what sticks the most. That's when it's the most played with," said Lukas Andriukaitis, analyst of the "Civil Resilience Initiative", speaking to the media.
According to the new legislation, a National Crisis Management Centre is to be established in January 2023. ”In today's context, we see a very important role of the centre in the fight against disinformation. Now in the state we have unique competencies scattered in separate institutions, the goal is to accumulate everything in one place”, said Vilmantas Vitkauskas, head of the Threat Management and Crisis Prevention Group of the Government Chancellery.
In an independent but related development, on 6th December 2022, the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania (LRTK) announced that the independent Russian TV station Dozhd will no longer be accessible in Lithuania after it lost its licence in Latvia. The Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP) stripped Dozhd of its licence, which gave the station the right to broadcast in the EU, following suspicions that the channel was helping Russia in its war against Ukraine. During the broadcast, a host told viewers how they could help provide Russian troops with supplies and equipment and named the Russian army "our army". The television station also displayed a map marking the occupied Crimea as Russian territory.
Dohzd left Russia in 2022 after many of its journalists left the country for fear of imprisonment. Journalist organisations urged the NEPLP to refrain from enforcing the revocation until a court has reviewed the decision. In their view, the revocation was disproportionate and they urged the court to reverse NEPLP’s decision. They argued that Dozhd has already dealt appropriately with the three editorial errors on which the revocation was based, by issuing an apology and dismissing the reporter who gave guidance on how to support Russian troops. The editor has also apologised for the use of the downloaded map, and the media outlet was fined for its single reference to Russia’s military as “our army”.
According to Russian-exile media organisation Meduza:
The decision by Latvia’s National Electronic Media Council to revoke TV Rain’s licence is unfair, wrong and disproportionate to the official violations flagged by the agency. Arguments that these violations pose a “national security threat” are unconvincing. The network’s anti-war position is obvious, as is its critical stance towards the Putin regime. TV Rain’s significance in countering Russian state propaganda is colossal. - Russian-exile media organisation Meduza.
On 22nd December 2022, the Dutch Media Authority granted permission to TVR Studios BV as a commercial media institution to provide a commercial television broadcasting service via a channel called Dozhd, also known as TV Rain. The Dutch permission gives Dozhd the right to broadcast in Europe, including Lithuania. Dozhd does not plan to move its headquarters back to Latvia even if the administrative court reverses NEPLP’s decision.
New Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty office
On 10th January 2023, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) opened its new office in Vilnius. The team includes journalists exiled from Belarus after Alexander Lukashenko's fraudulent re-election in 2020, as well as a team from RFE/RL's Russian-language platform Current Time. RFE/RL was regarded as an “extremist organisation” in Belarus and sharing its articles is a criminal offence in the country. In Russia, it was declared a "foreign agent” and after refusing to mark itself as such in its reporting, and after years of threats and harassment, in March 2022 it suspended its operations in the country. Nevertheless, it continues to serve Russian speakers from outside Russia. According to Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, the presence of RFE/RL in Vilnius is “a recognition of Lithuania's efforts to provide shelter and support to members of the Belarusian civil society”.