Former Lithuanian parliament speaker and TV host Arūnas Valinskas is under investigation for hate speech after opining in an interview that a politician should be “shot dead”.
In an interview with the Delfi.lt news website, Valinskas, who served one term in parliament in 2008–2012, spoke critically about MEP Valdemar Tomaševski, the leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania–Christian Families Alliance (LLRA-KŠS) party.
“Tomaševski is an absolute Colorado beetle,” Valinskas said, referring to the politicians' pro-Russian positions.
“He receives funding for his party from the Lithuanian state budget, but he's against the state. People like him should be shot dead, frankly. One every year. Starting with him.”
Reacting to the words, Tomaševski, whose party mostly represents Lithuania's Polish-speaking minority, said he would turn to law enforcement over hate speech.
“Everything is obvious there, and a court will look into this. We have not had anything like that for the past 30 years,” the politician said.
Lithuania's prosecution service said on Monday that it launched an investigation into incitement to hatred over Valinskas' interview.
The probe will look into whether his statement did not constitute a criminal act, prosecutors said.
Valinskas interview with Delfi.lt was filmed live and posted online. The excerpt quoted above, however, was not included into the text version of the interview.
Tomaševski's party, the LLRA-KŠS, received 4.82 percent of the vote during the first round of Lithuania's general election on October 11. It failed to cross the 5-percent election threshold to get into the Seimas.
However, the party's two candidates in single-member constituencies got elected during the first round of voting and two more candidates qualified for the second round.
Last week, the party also lodged a complaint with the Central Electoral Commission (VRK) and asked to annul the election results. The party claims that a campaign against them, led by the journalist Andrius Tapinas, influenced the outcome.
Valinskas said on Monday that his words were taken out of context and were intended as a humorous expression.
“In my statements, in no way was I advocating hate against an ethnic group or resorting to violence. It was a simple humorous expression in the conditional tense, without any intention or attempt to provoke active action,” Valinskas said in a statement, adding that his tone made it clear he wasn't serious.
He said he believed the LLRA-KŠS was a harmful political party that did not represent the interests of Lithuania's Polish-speaking community.
“I have the right to holding and expressing this opinion. I was not talking about Poles or ethnic minorities, but about a political party that I think is hostile to the Lithuanian state,” he insisted.
Valinskas and Tapinas co-host a quiz show on LRT TV.
The public broadcasting company has also issued a statement, distancing itself from Valinskas' remarks.
“Everyone is free to express their opinion or give bitter comments on someone's political activities, but these comments must not incite to violence or hatred. LRT strongly disapproves of Arūnas Valinskas' statements in the Delfi.lt broadcast. Our position is that even radical opinions can be expressed in a proper manner and without inciting strife,” the statement from LRT reads.