With online hate crime falling below the threshold of law enforcement, human rights experts in Lithuania are mulling new ways to combat abuse.
Openly gay Lithuanian member of parliament Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius constantly receives hateful comments and threats on social media. “If I saw someone like you on the street, I would beat them up,” Raskevičius reads one of the messages he received online.
He has repeatedly appealed to law enforcement regarding such comments. But the culprits could not always be found, or only received a warning if identified.
“After reading such negative comments, especially those that come to personal mailboxes on social networks, I have to go check whether my apartment door is locked,” says Raskevičius.
Hate often moves from social media to real life, according to the Lithuanian Human Rights Centre. Last year, police registered 47 hate crimes in the country. In 2011, the number was seven times bigger – 328.
But according to experts, statistics do not reflect the reality. Victims are often afraid to report hateful comments, while incidents involving violence are rarely classified as hate crimes. Over the last decade, only 7 percent of initiated hate crime investigations have reached the Lithuanian courts.
Hate comments are below the threshold of an offense according to the country’s criminal code, according to Guliakaitė, a lawyer at the European Foundation of Human Rights.
“As such, responsible individuals are not punished and continue to incite hatred online,” she says.
The Foundation proposed applying administrative responsibility, entailing fines or unpaid community work, to those who commit hate crimes. Around 50 percent of Lithuanians support such hate crime classification, surveys have shown.
The police officers must also receive training in how to overcome their preconceptions, according to Birutė Sabatauskaitė, head of the Human Rights Centre in Lithuania.
This year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Lithuanian law enforcement unjustifiably discriminated against a gay couple when it refused to open an investigation into incitement of hatred.