Lithuanian prosecutors are investigating a local newspaper owner after a press commission found him guilty of instigating intolerance against Jews and homosexuals.
Nearly three weeks after the publication of several controversial letters and an offensive cartoon in the Respublika newspaper, Lithuania’s Journalists and Publishers Ethics Commission ruled last week against the paper’s editor in chief and owner, Vitas Tomkus.
The group found Tomkus had violated the code of journalistic ethics and was guilty of “instigating Jewish and homosexual intolerance.”
Lithuanian prosecutors now will start investigating Tomkus on suspicion of violating laws that prohibit “instigating against any nation, race, ethnicity, religion or any other group of people.”
If found guilty, Tomkus could face up to two years in prison.
The probe is in response to a series of letters entitled “Who Rules the World?” which Tomkus published in the newspaper on Feb. 20.
They included a cartoon of a Jew and a naked gay man holding up the globe, claiming that gays ruled the world while the Jewish mafia uses the Holocaust to cover up their crimes.
“Could any of us think that the members of the international mafia would start covering their dirty activities with the memory of Holocaust victims?” Tomkus wrote as part of his letter-from-the-editor series.
“We should be especially careful with Americans, because America is ruled by Jews,” he wrote in another article.
On March 9, the Lithuanian Jewish community sought its own remedy by addressing the International Federation of Journalists.
The initiators of the letter-writing campaign “shamelessly employ ‘arguments’ of Nazi propaganda, publish the most vulgar caricatures, mock the catastrophe that befell Lithuanian Jews during World War II and deny the possibility of coexistence between Lithuanians and Jews,” their appeal read.
The Jewish community’s letter also criticized the government for not taking action.
“Your voiced support is especially important to us, who live in the country where nearly all Jews were murdered during World War II,” they wrote.
Roughly 96 percent of the more than 200,000 Jews who lived in Lithuania before the war were murdered by Nazis and their local collaborators.
In the week after the letters were published, the council of Ethnic Minorities in Lithuania complained to the country’s Human Rights Committee.
Among those condemning the newspaper’s actions were the chairman of Lithuania’s Jewish community, Simonas Alperavicius; the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, Efraim Zuroff; the U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, Stephen Mull; and several prominent E.U. representatives.
Lithuania’s ambassador to Israel, Alfonsas Eidintas, was called to the Israeli Foreign Ministry to account for the publication and denounce the article.
Those moves raised the pressure on Lithuanian officials to act swiftly and decisively.
“Such irresponsible actions, which should not be tolerated in any case, discredit our state and our nation,” Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas said in an official statement on March 5.
He asked the prosecutor general’s office to look into whether a case could be made against Respublika and Tomkus.
“National dailies should serve as benchmarks of professional skills and journalistic ethics instead of humiliating the name of all media, instigating hatred and anti-culture,” Brazauskas said.
Only weeks before Tomkus’ letters were published, Lithuanian state security forces arrested a man for distributing anti-Semitic literature in mailboxes of Parliament members and other prominent government officials. There was no official response from the government.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.