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(New York) - President Valdas Adamkus should veto a proposed law passed by Lithuania's parliament that would ban references to gay, lesbian, and bisexual relations in public places, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the president.

The "Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information" would ban all materials that "agitate for homosexual, bisexual and polygamous relations" from schools or other public places where they can be seen by youth, on the grounds that they have a "detrimental effect" on "the development of minors." Lithuania's Seimas (Parliament) passed the law on June 16, 2009, by a vote of 67 of the 74 members of parliament present and sent it to the president, who has 10 days to decide whether to sign or veto it.

"What were the lawmakers thinking when they passed this homophobic law?" said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Program at Human Rights Watch. "Depriving young people of information they need to decide about their lives and protect their health is a regressive and dangerous move, and amounts to censorship."

Lithuania is a member of the European Union, which is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. The country is also a member of the Council of Europe, and in 1995 ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Article 10 of the convention states that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers."

In the 2007 case of Baczkowski and others v. Poland, the European Court of Human Rights stressed the importance of protecting freedoms of assembly and association, and of pluralism in a democratic society, stating: "this obligation is of particular importance for persons holding unpopular views or belonging to minorities, because they are more vulnerable to victimization."

The law also contradicts Lithuania's commitments undertaken in signing a joint statement on human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity, presented by 66 states at the United Nations General Assembly on December 18, 2008. In the joint statement, Lithuania called upon other states to promote and protect the human rights of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The statement went on to call on all states to remove obstacles which prevent human rights defenders from carrying out their work on issues of human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity.

"This law runs counter to Lithuania's obligations as a member of the European Union and the international community," Dittrich said. "By stigmatizing issues of sexual orientation as shameful, the law would have a devastating effect on the development of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender youth."

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