VIENNA, 2 July 2012 – The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, today expressed her concern over a Vilnius court decision sentencing Dainius Radzevičius, the Chair of the Lithuanian Union of Journalists, to a criminal fine for defamation.
“Decriminalization of defamation remains a top priority of my Office,” said Mijatović. “Criminal sentences like this one stifle freedom of expression, including the freedom to criticize powerful individuals in cases of public interest.”
Radzevičius was sued by Vitas Tomkus, a media owner, for his comments in a blog mentioning a newspaper owned by Tomkus. The first-instance court sentenced Radzevičius to a criminal fine of 2,800 litas (750 euros) and 10,000 litas (2,900 euros) in damages to be paid to Tomkus.
“The case of Dainius Radzevičius shows the urgent need to decriminalize defamation in Lithuania,” Mijatović wrote in a letter to Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis on 29 June. “I am pleased that you share my position in this regard, as was confirmed by your World Press Freedom Day statement on 3 May 2012. I ask you to use your authority to encourage the Lithuanian government to initiate decriminalization of defamation.”
Mijatović also said she would follow Radzevičius’s appeal against the verdict, and assured that her Office is ready to provide Lithuania with any expertise and assistance to decriminalize defamation.
The Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media advocates for complete decriminalization of defamation across the OSCE region as journalists should not face criminal charges for voicing their opinions.