VILNIUS - The number of criminal cases launched in Lithuania for incidents of hate speech against national minorities, particularly against Jews, has sharply increased over the past two years, according to data released by the Special Investigations Depart-ment of the Prosecutor General's Office on July 16.
During the first half-year of 2007, 13 pretrial investigations were opened into written or oral insult or incitement of hatred based on gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, language, background or social condition.
The number was the same for the second half of 2006, during the first half of 2006, however, the number was only seven. During the entire years of 2005, 2004 and 2003, the numbers were one, five and one respectively.
Prosecutor General Gintaras Jasaitis linked the rise to the development of new forms of electronic communication.
"[Because] the improving communications technologies allow everyone to freely express their convictions, the number of crimes arising from uninhibited, irresponsible speaking is also increasing," Jasaitis told BNS.
The incidence of intolerance against Jewish people is especially high. Of the 40 pretrial investigations started since 2003, 22 were related to cases of anti-semitism.
However Dr. Simonas Alperavicius, Chairman of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, told The Baltic Times that there hasn't been a perceptible rise in anti-Jewish hate speech in recent times.
"We as a community worry about comments we find on the Internet... statements like 'It's great to remember the Holocaust,' and 'It's a pity the Holocaust didn't succeed.' On the other hand, there is not something special happening now that was not happening before," he said.
The discrepancy may be in part explained by the prosecutor general's assertion that because social consciousness is increasing, there's now more likelihood that a complaint will be filed when hate speech occurs.
"We have noticed that the bearers are not only people who belong to the group against which the hatred is instigated, but public-minded people as well, who inform the prosecutor's office about criminal acts possibly committed in the category," Jasaitis said.
Other groups that have been victims of hate speech in the 40 cases were black people, Chechens, Roma, Poles, homosexuals, Muslims and Lithuanians.