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(New York) - The Lithuanian parliament should not revive a proposed law that had been vetoed by the president, to ban references to gay, lesbian, and bisexual relations in public places, Human Rights Watch said in a letter released today to the speaker of Lithuania's parliament.

On July 14, 2009 Lithuania's Seimas (parliament) will convene a plenary session to decide whether to overturn the presidential veto that effectively killed the legislation. On June 23, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Valdas Adamkus urging him to veto the proposed law, which he did on June 26.

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." The Seimas passed the law on June 16 by a vote of 67 of the 74 members present and sent it to the president.

"This would be a homophobic law, and it should be rejected," 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 would be a regressive and dangerous move, and would amount 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 in a joint statement on human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity, presented by 66 nations at the United Nations General Assembly on December 18, 2008. In the joint statement, Lithuania and the other nations that signed the statement called upon other states to promote and protect the human rights of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The statement called on all nations to remove obstacles that prevent human rights defenders from carrying out their work on issues of human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Members of the Seimas need to come to their senses and reject this and any law that runs counter to Lithuania's European Union and Council of Europe obligations," Dittrich said. "Stigmatizing issues of sexual orientation as shameful, as this proposed law does, grossly violates European norms. And it would have a devastating effect on the development of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender youth."

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