The Government of Lithuania, through its subordinate courts, has restricted the freedom of the press by ordering the closure of the news website www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt

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Complaint Procedure Form

2023-06-28

Last name: Drižius
First name(s): Aurimas
Nationality: Lithuanian
Address for correspondence on this complaint: Moliakalnio 86, Vilnius, Lithuania

Tel and fax: (please indicate country and area code) 37068738471
E-mail: llredakcija@gmail.com
Website: laisvaslaikrastis.lt

II. Information on the State concerned
Name of the State concerned and, as applicable, name of public authorities responsible for the alleged violation(s):

Goverment of Republic of Lithuania

III. Facts of the complaint and nature of the alleged violation(s)

The Office of the Ethics Inspector of Journalists of Lithuania has twice secretly applied to the court to close the media outlet www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt.

Both times, the Office of the Inspector of Journalists’ Ethics cited the same alleged violation – the alleged dissemination of false information – but both times the court was presented with the same alleged violation by the website.

Both times, the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court dealt with the complaints of the Office in secret, without informing us of the claim and without allowing us to defend ourselves:

  1. On 27 May 2022, the Office of the Inspector of Journalists’ Ethics, by letter No S-557, wrote to the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court requesting the closure of the public information medium www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt.

The court examined and granted this complaint in secret and in absentia, and the portal was closed down by court decision without any notification to him.

  1. Four months later, on 05/09/2022, the Office of the Inspector of Journalistic Ethics once again wrote to the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court with a letter No. S-872, requesting that the media outlet www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt be closed down.

In the letter, the Office stated that, in the course of the implementation of its functions, it had identified possible violations of the Law on Public Information of the Republic of Lithuania concerning the dissemination of sensitive information and was taking all possible measures to prevent the dissemination of sensitive information referred to in Article 19(I)(1) of the Law on Public Information of the Republic of Lithuania.
In accordance with the provisions of Article 52(7) of the Law on Public Information of the Republic of Lithuania, we demand the immediate termination of access to the website www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt in the Republic of Lithuania
Please inform the Inspector of Journalists’ Ethics ei about the actions taken with regard to the access to the web pages. to zeit@zeit.lt.

The Vilnius Regional Administrative Court in administrative case No eI2-6259 -59612022 granted the request of the Office of the Inspector of Journalists’ Ethics and ordered to satisfy the request of the Office of the Inspector of Journalists’ Ethics of 1 September 2022 No S-872.
The news portal www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt was thus closed in the Republic of Lithuania.
The fundamental infringement is that the defendant in the present case was not informed of the claims of the Office of the Inspector of Journalists’ Ethics, was not informed that the court would hear an appeal against its closure, and was not aware that such a case was before the court. He was not able to defend himself because he was denied the right to know about the claims and to defend himself.
The whole case was dealt with in absentia, without the defendants, the news portal, knowing or being informed.
To make matters worse, when we found out from third parties that the portal was being closed down by court order and applied to the court for an order, the Vilnius Administrative Court informed us in writing that it would not give us an order in the case, as the news portal was not a party to the proceedings.
In other words, the defendant’s fundamental rights of defence were violated – he did not know that the service wanted to close him down, the court examined this claim in absentia and upheld it. The news portal was closed by default, without knowledge of the claim and without being able to defend itself.

Two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights were thus violated:

ARTICLE 6
Right to a fair hearing

  1. Where the rights and obligations of a person in a civil matter or any criminal charge against him are at issue, he shall have the right to a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law, within the shortest possible time and in the public interest. The judgment of the court shall be made public, but in a democratic society, in the interests of morals, public order or public security, the press or the public may be excluded from all or part of the proceedings where this is necessary for the protection of minors or the private life of the parties, or to the extent that the court considers it necessary in the light of special circumstances which would render publicity prejudicial to the interests of justice.
  2. Every person charged with an offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
  3. Every person charged with a criminal offence shall have at least the following rights:
    (a) To be promptly and fully informed, in a language which he understands, of the nature and grounds of the charge against him;
    (b) to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence;
    (c) to defend himself or herself, or to be assisted by a defence counsel of his or her own choice, or, if he or she does not have sufficient means to pay for a defence counsel and, where the interests of justice so require, to obtain the assistance of a lawyer free of charge, to examine witnesses for the prosecution or to have the opportunity of being examined by such witnesses, and to have witnesses for the defence summoned and examined on the same conditions as those applicable to witnesses for the prosecution;

ARTICLE 10
Freedom of expression

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without hindrance from public authorities and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from licensing radio, television or cinematographic institutions.
  2. The exercise of these freedoms, since they involve duties and responsibilities, may be subject to certain formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties imposed by law and which, in a democratic society, are necessary for the security of the State, for the protection of territorial integrity or of the general public, for the prevention of breaches of public order or of crime, for the protection of human health or morals or of the dignity or rights of others, for the prevention of the disclosure of classified information, or for the safeguarding of the authority and impartiality of the judicial power.

The Government of Lithuania, through its subordinate courts, has restricted the freedom of the press by ordering the closure of the news portal www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt

The case for the closure of the portal was dealt with in secret, in absentia, without notice and without giving us the opportunity to defend ourselves.
This is a flagrant violation of two articles of the European Declaration of Human Rights – the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of expression.

The Court refused to reopen the case
When I found out that the news portal had been closed by court order, I applied to the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court for a ruling.
On 19 October 2022, Judge Jolita Rasiukevičienė of the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court (VACC) refused to provide the ruling of this so-called court, by which the portal www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt, which I represent, was found by the VACC to have violated the law of the Republic of Lithuania. This is probably the fifth time that the court has refused to say what we are accused of.
The same decision has already been taken by the so-called Supreme Administrative Court in administrative case No eAS-659-520/2022.
In this case, I also asked the court to produce a ruling by which laisvaslaikrastis.lt was found to have violated the laws of the Republic of Lithuania, but the court also ruled that I did not have the right.
In other words, even in Stalin’s time the defendants at least knew what they were accused of, but in the democratic and legal Republic of Lithuania this right is taken away – cases are heard and rulings are made without the defendants knowing anything about it. What is even more ridiculous is that the „courts” refuse even to make their rulings available to the persons concerned.
I have informed the court that the above-mentioned administrative case No. eI2-6259-596/2022, in which the court ruled that www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt allegedly violated the laws of the Republic of Lithuania, was heard without any notice or knowledge on our part. Even earlier, the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court refused to provide the above mentioned ruling, which acknowledged that we had allegedly violated the law, even after we wrote to them.
Judge Rasiukevičienė acknowledged in the contested order that „on 4 October, an e-mail was received stating that ‘please send me the aforementioned court order, as we did not receive it and did not take part in the proceedings’. Judge Rasiukevičienė did not comply with this request because ‘the e-mail request does not allow the identification of the person who submitted it’.
After this order was appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court, the same Rasiukevičienė refused to accept the appeal, stating that „the right to appeal against resolutions is not enshrined in the Law on Administrative Offences”, and reminded us again that she would not give the above-mentioned order, because „the applicant is not a part of the proceedings”.
It is very strange that the court states that the subject of the proceedings does not have the right to know what he is accused of. All this criminal activity is causing us great harm, because the domain registrar has ordered the termination of the contract for the registration of the domain, and is thus attempting to have it generally recognised that the domain laisvaslaikrastis.lt is illegal. This is doubly absurd because Article 46 of the Law on the Administrative Judge. The parties to the dispute, the parties to the proceedings and the participants state:

  1. The parties to the administrative dispute are the applicant and the respondent.
  2. The parties to the proceedings in an administrative case are: the applicant (the entity that has lodged the complaint (application, petition); the court that has made the decision); the defendant (the public administration entity or other person whose legal acts or actions (inaction) or delay in performing actions are complained of); and the third parties concerned (i.e., the parties whose rights or obligations may be affected by the resolution of the proceedings).
    The court ruled that we had violated LT law without notice and without our participation. Even though the law clearly states that we should have been prosecuted because we are those whose „rights or obligations may be affected by the outcome of the case”.
    Moreover, Article 49 of the Law on Administrative Justice (ABT Law) states that „we are entitled to have our rights and obligations respected”. Right of access to the case
  3. The parties to the proceedings shall have the right to have access to the documents and other material in the case (including the electronic file) and to obtain copies (digital copies) and extracts thereof, subject to payment, with the permission of the court (judge).
  4. A party to the proceedings or an institution which provides the court with documents or materials the data of which constitute a State, official, professional or commercial secret may request the court not to make them available for inspection and copying. The court shall make an order to that effect.
    Article 52. Other rights and obligations of the parties to the proceedings
  5. The procedural rights of the parties to proceedings shall be equal. Special laws shall determine the specific features of the procedural rights of the parties in particular categories of proceedings.

On 4 January 2023, I applied to the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court for the reopening of administrative case No eI2-4813-983-2022 and for access to it, for the submission of a statement of defence, and for a hearing in the manner provided for by the law. The court refused to accept my complaint in this case and referred me to the Supreme Administrative Court.
I am therefore appealing once again to the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania. I point out that in the above-mentioned administrative case, the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court granted the request of the defendant, the Office of the Inspector of Journalists’ Ethics (OGEI), and ordered the closure of the media outlet – the Internet portal www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt, which I edit and administer.

I pointed out that the above-mentioned order was made without any notice, participation or knowledge of the case. In other words, the portal was closed, as the lawyers say, by „legal banditry”, „by default”.
I applied to the court, stating that I was requesting the reopening of the administrative proceedings in question, as Article 156 of the Law on Administrative Justice (Art. 156 of the Law on Administrative Justice) does not apply. The grounds for reopening of proceedings provide that proceedings in a case closed by a final judgment or a ruling may be reopened on the grounds and in accordance with the procedure laid down in this Chapter. The proceedings may be reopened on the following grounds:
(6) where one of the parties to the proceedings was incapacitated in a particular field at the time of the proceedings and was not represented by a legal representative;
(7) where the decision of the court has decided on the rights or obligations of persons not involved in the proceedings;
I pointed out that administrative case No eI2-4813-983-2022 was examined without any notification to the interested party, the mass media www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt, without its knowledge of the case and without the submission of a reply.

The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania in administrative case No eP-24-629/202 decided to refuse to accept the request for reopening of the proceedings in administrative case No eI2-4813-983/2022 from Aurimas Drižius, the head of the private limited liability company ‘Grėsmės nacionaliniam saugumui’, and to return it to the person who filed it.

This exhausted my possibilities of defending myself in the Lithuanian courts – both the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court and the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania have ruled that the restriction of the media and the closure of news portals in absentia, in secret, without giving him the right to defend himself, is a perfectly legitimate action.

I therefore request that my complaint be admitted and that the Lithuanian government be declared to have violated my right to a fair trial

IV. Exhaustion of domestic remedies

  1. The Vilnius Regional Administrative Court in administrative case No eI2-6259 -59612022 granted the request of the Office of the Inspector of Journalists’ Ethics and ordered to satisfy the request of the Office of the Inspector of Journalists’ Ethics of 1 September 2022 No S-872.
    The news portal www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt was thus closed in the Republic of Lithuania.
  2. On 4 January 2023, I applied to the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court for the reopening of administrative case No eI2-4813-983-2022 and for access to it, for the submission of a statement of defence, and for a hearing in the manner provided for by the law. The court refused to accept my complaint in this case and referred me to the Supreme Administrative Court.
  3. The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania in administrative case No eP-24-629/202 decided to refuse to accept the request for reopening of the proceedings in administrative case No eI2-4813-983/2022 from Aurimas Drižius, the head of the private limited liability company ‘Grėsmės nacionaliniam saugumui’, and to return it to the person who filed it.

V. Submission of communication to other human rights bodies
1- Have you already submitted the same matter to a special procedure, a treaty body or other United Nations or similar regional complaint procedures in the field of human rights?

No

VI. Request for confidentiality
In case the communication complies with the admissibility criteria set forth in Council resolution 5/1, kindly note that it will be transmitted to the State concerned so as to obtain the views of the latter on the allegations of violations.

Please state whether you would like your identity or any specific information contained in the complaint to be kept confidential.

Request for confidentiality (Please tick as appropriate): Yes  FORMCHECKBOX  No x FORMCHECKBOX 

Date: 2023-06-28 Signature: Aurimas Drižius…………….

VII. Checklist of supporting documents

  1. Decision of the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court in administrative case No eI2-4813 -983 -2022
  2. Decision of the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court in administrative case No eI2-6259 -59612022
  3. The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania in administrative case No eP-24-629/2022

Translations to English of these decisions

VIII. Where to send your communications?

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Human Rights Council Branch-Complaint Procedure Unit
OHCHR- Palais Wilson
United Nations Office at Geneva
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: (+41 22) 917 90 11
E-mail:  HYPERLINK „mailto:CP@ohchr.org” CP@ohchr.org

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