Lithuania has launched a probe into who is responsible for falsely reporting a rape. The investigation comes amid fears of a Russian disinformation campaign following an increased NATO deployment to the Baltic countries.
Vytautas Bakas, chairman of the Lithuanian parliament's Committee on National Security and Defense, said on Friday that a probe had been launched into the incident amid growing concerns over the spread of so-called "fake news" meant to sow distrust between locals and NATO allies.
"The police are conducting [the investigation]," Bakas told DW in a phone interview. Furthermore, he added that Lithuanian authorities had been preparing for such incidents, which he called "information attacks."
The probe comes in response to an email sent to the speaker of the Lithuanian parliament claiming that a group of German-speaking men raped a 15-year-old girl in a small town near a German army barracks.
Police have already determined that the report was false, and now authorities are looking into who was behind the email, which prosecutors said was sent from a country outside the European Union. Tensions have been running high along the EU's eastern border ever since Russia annexed Crimea from the Ukraine in 2014.
Concerns over Russian involvement
Following US President Donald Trump's win in November, which spurred fears that Washington would pull back from its commitment to European security, Germany agreed to lead a NATO deployment of some 1,000 troops to the Baltic states. Last week, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen arrived in the country to meet with President Dalia Grybauskaite to commemorate the arrival of the battalion.
Bakas said the spread of disinformation is an attempt "to discredit our cooperation with the allies, to increase the distrust of the government's actions, to influence political decisions or to belittle NATO itself." Luckily, he said, the message didn't attract much attention from the public. "It shows that people are already able to identify and critically evaluate the information," he said.
Prosecutors would not speculate on whether Russia was behind the false report.
Concern has grown over the dissemination of "fake news" amid growing tension between Europe and Russia.
Last year, Russian news outlets picked up a story about a 13-year-old Russian-German girl named Lisa who was allegedly raped by Arab refugees in Berlin. The story sparked protests from hundreds of Russian-Germans and drew criticism from German authorities who warned Moscow not to use the case for political purposes.
blc/sms (AFP, Reuters, with reporting from Zivile Raskauskaite in Lithuania)