What is hate speech?

Hate speech promotes hatred or violence against individuals or groups based on certain attributes. It is not protected by freedom of expression and can be lawfully prevented and punished.
Case summary

Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania

European Court of Human Rights
14 January 2020


The applicants are in a same-sex relationship. Mr Beizaras posted a photograph of them kissing on his Facebook page. The photograph went “viral”, receiving hundreds of comments in Lithuania. The comments mostly included calls for the applicants to be “castrated”, “killed”, “exterminated” and “burned” because of their homosexuality. The applicants, with the help of an NGO, unsuccessfully tried to initiate criminal proceedings against the authors of the comments. The domestic courts held that the applicants’ behaviour had been “eccentric” and deliberately provocative.


The applicants alleged that they had been discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation because of the authorities’ refusal to launch a pre-trial investigation into the hate comments on Mr Beizaras’s Facebook page. They also argued that the refusal had left them with no possibility of legal redress.

Court’s ruling

The Court found it clear that the comments had affected the applicants’ psychological well-being and dignity. The Court considered that the applicants’ homosexual orientation had played a role in the way they had been treated by the authorities. Focussing on what they considered to be the applicants’ “eccentric behaviour”, the criminal courts had expressly referred to their sexual orientation in their decisions. They had even quite clearly expressed disapproval of the applicants so publicly demonstrating their sexual orientation when refusing to launch a pre-trial investigation, citing the incompatibility of “traditional family values” with social acceptance of homosexuality. Because of the authorities’ discriminatory attitude, the applicants had not been protected, as was their right under criminal law, from what could only be described as undisguised calls for an attack on their physical and mental integrity.

Accordingly, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 14, taken in conjunction with Article 8 of the Convention, as well as, a violation of Article 13 of the Convention because the applicants had been denied an effective domestic remedy for their complaints about a breach of their private life owing to discrimination on account of their sexual orientation.

Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education