Lithuania

State of emergency and Russian media ban extended; concerns over migrant pushbacks

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement about partial mobilisation in Russia, on 22nd September 2022, Lithuania’s Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė said that Lithuania does not have to save all Russian citizens from mobilisation. On 8th September 2022, Lithuania announced an extension to the state of emergency along its borders with Belarus and Russia until 16th December 2022. Additionally, the Seimas, the unicameral parliament of Lithuania, extended the ban on broadcasting and distribution of Russian and Belarusian Internet radio and television channels until 1st October 2024. Concerningly, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) said Lithuania's pushback policy, in place from mid-2021, is causing mental and physical suffering for migrants trying to cross the border illegally. Read more

State of emergency and Russian media ban extended; concerns over migrant pushbacks

Protests for migrant rights; positive move in press freedom index

On 15th June 2022, around a dozen demonstrators staged a protest outside the Lithuanian government’s office in Vilnius over the country’s policies on migrants and asylum seekers. The demonstrators called on the government to reconsider its current policy and provide opportunities for integration into Lithuania. Separately, a protest against sexual violence in Ukraine was held outside the Russian Embassy in Vilnius. The protest came after reports that Ukrainian women and children were being raped and tortured by Russian troops. Relates to Russia's war on Ukraine, the Lithuanian government submitted legal amendments to the parliament on 23rd March 2022, which aimed to extend the powers to restrict online content that incites hatred and violence or contains war propaganda. Read more

Protests for migrant rights; positive move in press freedom index

CSOs providing assistance to migrants at the border face investigation

On 30th December 2021, the NGO Sienos Grupė posted on Facebook that they were part of an investigation by the State Border Guard Service (VSAT) into “people smuggling” on the Belarus-Lithuania border. Sienos Grupė, backed by the Lithuanian Forum of Christian Social Initiatives, provides direct humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants. Separately, 13th January 2022 marked the 31st anniversary of the 1991 Soviet crackdown in Lithuania, commonly referred to as Bloody Sunday. At an event organised by Seimas, about 2,500 protesters gathered outside the parliament building in Vilnius to protest the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, several protests have taken place to show solidarity with Ukrainians. Read more

CSOs providing assistance to migrants at the border face investigation

Migrant border crisis sparks concerns for civic freedoms, LGBTQI+ rights in the spotlight

On 9th November 2021, a state of emergency was declared, concerning bordering territories, by the Lithuanian Seimas as a consequence of the emergency situation arising from the migrant crisis at the border with Belarus. The measures, imposing limits on entering the five kilometre-long zone and impacting migrants’ and asylum seekers’ rights, entered into effect on 10th November 2021. The state of emergency, which was set to be in force for one month, was further extended to 15th January 2022. Several protests took place in Lithuanian migrant camps, although restrictions on reporters in the border section limited the collection of information. There have been concerns in relation to freedom of information as a result of the state of emergency. In a positive move, after several press freedom groups raised concerns, since 22nd November 2021, reporters have been allowed access to the border section but are required to remain 100 metres from the frontier, contrary to a previous requirement of maintaining a one-kilometre distance away. In addition, according to the measures, journalists must provide the time and details of their trip to spokespersons of both the Ministry of Interior and the State Border Guard Service. Journalists are not permitted in the migrants’ accommodation facilities. Additionally, NGOs will only be able to provide humanitarian assistance if they have a special permit. Read more

Migrant border crisis sparks concerns for civic freedoms, LGBTQI+ rights in the spotlight

Attempts to ban LGBTI pride march unsuccessful; President makes homophobic statements

Despite challenges in the preceding months, the Kaunas Pride march took place at the beginning of September 2021, involving more than 2,000 demonstrators. The Kaunas municipality had used all available legal means to prevent the march from happening, but the court ruled against the municipality, allowing the peaceful demonstration to occur. Counter-protesters tried to block the path of the march, threw eggs, hurled insults and clashed with the police. The event resulted in 22 individuals being detained and five pre-trial investigations The attempt to halt the pride event came shortly after homophobic statements were made by the President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda. Another rally was held in Vilnius on 10th September 2021, organised by the Lithuanian Family Movement, gathering more than 4,500 people, with the purpose of protesting against LGBTQI+ rights - including the ratification of the Istanbul Convention - and against COVID-19 measures. Read more

Attempts to ban LGBTI pride march unsuccessful; President makes homophobic statements

Organisers take legal action after municipality prevents LGBTI march from going ahead

On 9th June 2021, Belarusian activists in Lithuania organised a rally at a border crossing in Medininkai to block traffic to and from Belarus. The aim of the protest was to put pressure on Belarus and call for stricter EU sanctions. The protest was not authorised by Lithuanian authorities and protesters attempting to block roads were threatened by police and the Lithuanian Border Guard Service (VSAT) with detention and fines. In a separate development, organisers of the first LGBTI Pride march in the city of Kaunas are suing the municipality over its refusal to issue a permit for the event, which is planned to take place on 4th September 2021. Even though the organisers proposed three different routes through the city, they were all rejected due to infrastructure renovation works and the “disproportionate inconvenience” due to traffic disruptions that the protest may cause. Related to LGBTI rights, on 4th June 2021, the National Association of Families and Parents sent a letter to the Lithuanian Radio and Television Council (LRT) complaining that there is too much LGBTI representation and that this “propaganda can no longer be tolerated.” Read more

Organisers take legal action after municipality prevents LGBTI march from going ahead

Religious groups oppose ratification of Istanbul Convention

The debates around the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence have been ongoing in Lithuania after the Parliament included the document in the discussion of the spring session 2021. Signed in 2013, the Convention was submitted by the President for ratification back in 2018 but did not proceed further. Leaders of Lithuania's Christian religious communities issued a statement in March 2021 opposing the ratification of the Convention.
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Religious groups oppose ratification of Istanbul Convention

Support for Belarus; LGBTI rights under attack

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly harsh on hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities. With the purpose of helping one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic, and facilitating the coordination between those who need help and those who can help, the National Coordinating Centre for Volunteers was recently established. CSOs see "the rise of volunteering activities and in general the boost of civil society initiatives” as a “positive trend” currently taking place in Lithuania. Lithuanian Non-Governmental Organisations’ Information and Support Centre has been actively supporting Belarus citizens currently living in Lithuania to establish NGOs and other similar entities that facilitate civic engagement. In addition, Lithuania has also been granting political asylum, scholarship and medical assistance to Belarus citizens, and has been home to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya -- Lukashenko’s main opposition -- ever since she fled Belarus in August 2020 due to safety concerns. In a concerning development, there have been several attacks on LGBTI rights.
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Support for Belarus; LGBTI rights under attack

Protests staged in support of Polish Women and against COVID-19 measures

On 11th and 25th October 2020, Lithuania held parliamentary elections that ultimately led to the creation of a new conservative government. Like many other European countries, Lithuania had to adopt restrictive measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus. On 2nd December 2020, the government further tightened the measures in relation to gatherings between private citizens in public spaces by reducing the number of people allowed to gather from five to two. On 17th and 18th November 2020, during the visit of Polish President Andrzej Duda to Lithuania, women rights activists protested, in support of Polish women, against the very restrictive near total ban on abortion imposed by a Constitutional Tribunal ruling in October 2020. On 21st November 2020, about 40 people protested against the mandatory requirement to wear a face mask in public places. Read more

Protests staged in support of Polish Women and against COVID-19 measures

Protest over LGBTI rights; government praised for milestone NGO funding support

Lithuanian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are rejoicing after a National NGO Fund was established following many years of advocacy.
 In addition, the Lithuanian administration has promised a further two million Euros for the NGO sector, which has been heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In a separate development, in July 2020, around 500 people rallied in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital for LGBTI rights, calling on the government to legalise sex change and same-sex marriage and to highlight the harmful provisions of the controversial Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information. In a positive development, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in favour of a gay couple Beizaras and Levickas in a landmark case against hate speech.

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Protest over LGBTI rights; government praised for milestone NGO funding support