VILNIUS - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is expected to rule on Tuesday if Lithuanian law-enforcement discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to open an investigation into hate comments against them on social media.
Five years ago, one of the applicants posted on Facebook a photograph of a same-sex kiss between him and the other applicant.
The post received dozens of comments, including calls for the two gay men to be "thrown into the gas chambers", "exterminated", "burned" and "killed".
Klaipeda prosecutors and courts rejected the couple's request to open an investigation into incitement to hatred and discrimination.
'UNETHICAL EXPRESSION OF OPINION'
The authorities decided that the authors of the comments had expressed their opinion using "inappropriate words" and that their behavior did not warrant prosecution.
Law-enforcement officials described the posting of the photograph as "eccentric" and "deliberately provocative" behavior.
A Klaipeda court said in its ruling that the two young men had to take into account the fact the majority of Lithuanian society "very much appreciate traditional family values".
"The authors of the comments used inappropriate words to express their disapproval of the homosexual relationship, but the mere use of obscene words does not warrant criminal prosecution," it said.
COMPLAIN ABOUT DISCRIMINATION
The two men – Pijus Beizaras and Mangirdas Levickas – maintain that the authorities' refusal to launch a pre-trial investigation into the hate comments contributed to an atmosphere of impunity and intimidation that led to insults against them.
They say law-enforcement officials did not even question the authors of the comments and did not regard calls to kill as incitement to hatred.
"If those comments were only 'unethical' expression of opinion, it becomes unclear what statements would be 'sufficient' to qualify as 'publicly ridiculing, expressing contempt for, urging hatred or inciting discrimination'," the applicants said.
The two men disagree that the expression of their affection constituted "eccentric behavior", because they did not violate the rights of others by posting the picture on the social media profile.