The Chamber of three judges on 27 March 2019 pronounced the judgement in the criminal case of great attention of the society and of mass media regarding the events of January 1991. The pronouncement of the judgement was broadcasted on-line.
The case in its scope, the number of victims and of the accused persons is one of the biggest criminal cases ever investigated in the courts of the country. In the criminal case 67 persons were charged with crimes of war. They were defended by 126 defenders appointed by the State. Over 700 people were recognised as victims. Over 760 volumes of the case material were handed over to the court for the hearing, of those 16 being the indictment.
Military operation took place several days (regularly), by seizing different objects in different places of the city. On 11 January 1991, KAD Alytus Technical School, the administration building of the Country Defence Department, the Dispatcher’s office of Vilnius Railway Station, the premises of the branch of Inter-city Telephone Centre Vilnius-I of the SE Lietuvos Telekomas and radio re-translation premises of the Lithuanian Radio and Television Centre, the Lithuanian Radio and Television Creation House and the reserve premises of the Lithuanian Radio and Television were seized, weapons were robbed from the warehouse of the National Council of the Lithuanian Hunters and Fishermen Society, the base of Special Purpose Detachment of Militia was seized and weapons were robbed, the premises of the Police Academy of the Ministry of Interior, the premises of Sports and Technique Organisation Vytis under the Department of Country Defence and other premises were seized.
On 11 January 1991, the Press House was stormed twice. On 13 January, at night, the attacks on the TV tower and RTV Committee started almost simultaneously. Crowds of people were at those buildings guarding the entrances to the buildings and access to them expecting this way to stop the aggression, to not allow the military to seize the guarded objects. During the first attack the civilians succeeded, the military failed to break into the building. After a while, the Press House was attacked again, involving additional military machinery and having increased the number of attackers. The tanks and armed machines would come to the objects from different sides, according to the plans made in advance and by set routes, and attacks took place at the same time from different sides. The members of the tank crews during questioning indicated that the task was to remove obstacles, to push people away from the vicinities of the buildings, to free entries to the buildings for paratroopers. It was instructed during operations to remove any obstacles, to use smoke curtains, to flare spotlights into the faces of people, to fire blank rounds. The paratroopers that had participated in the operation indicated that their task was, together with the soldiers of special troops, to get inside the buildings, to remove the employees from there, and to disconnect the equipment. When performing the task the soldiers used actions of close combat against civilians, fired overhead and to the ground to make the civilians withdraw and to not interfere with the tasks performance. Though the accused persons that had participated in the attacks on objects and guarded the buildings to the end of August 1991 deny destructing the buildings and seizure of equipment and other items, the data of the case negate that.
The Chamber of Judges, taking into consideration the relevant legal acts of the national and the international law, decided that the criminal acts committed in January 1991 by the accused persons – attacking and killing civilian persons, infliction of serious bodily harm, another inhuman treatment of civilian persons, executing and supporting another country’s politics, shall be assessed as crimes against humanity.
The data of the case heard by the court confirmed that before the commencement of the military operation it had been known that the objects to be seized were not military, guarded by civilian persons. The accused and the witnesses (military) indicated that the objects had been surveyed before the operation; the numbers and types of machinery, the military participating in the operation, the composition of the troops were selected with the consideration of the number of civilians protecting the objects. None of the accused military refused to perform the unlawful order though, after arriving to the objects and seeing the crowds of people there, they understood that panic was possible and that people could be injured or killed.
In the assessment of the Chamber, the criminal acts committed by the accused may not be assessed as incidental or chaotic as the attacks on civilians guarding the objects were performed by numerous forces of military of the USSR and by internal forces of the Ministry of Interior and by the group A of the SSR Special Purpose Detachment. Heavy military machinery was employed for the attack on the objects: tanks, BMPs, special and explosive measures, as well as tactical firearms, and prohibited ammunition of 5.45 mm off-centre bullet. The military operation was planned and prepared in advance, knowing that the objects were protected by unarmed civilians. The civilians neither resisted to the military nor provoked them; aiming to avoid any potential armed conflict, even the police officers going to the objects under attacks were disarmed.
The court made the conclusion that killing of civilians and causing of injuries of different levels to them during the military operation was a consistent, planned, large scale and systematic part of attack on civilians, implementing the policy of the USSR and its political party CPSU with the purpose to keep Lithuania within the USSR, rather than incidental crimes.
Joint actions of the military of the force structures of the USSR corresponded to the classical preparation for an attack and its execution elements: political consent was obtained, the pyramid of control was formed, and concentration of forces and attack actions were performed. The key principles of attacking were maintained – an unexpected time (at night) was chosen, detailed reconnaissance of the objects of attack was performed, location conditions were made use of, and unexpected directions of actions were chosen by attacking from different sides.
Imposing penalties on the accused persons the court considered the fact that the accused persons are not the citizens of Lithuania, they do not live in Lithuania; therefore the penalties imposed on them should relate only to one of the purposes of the penalty provided for in Article 41 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania, i.e., with the implementation of the principle of justice. Implementing this principle and imposing penalties on the accused persons the Chamber of Judges considered the judgement of conviction passed by Vilnius Regional Court in the case heard in 1999 where the offences committed by the accused persons for identical acts were qualified according to the Criminal Code applied at the time of commitment of the offences, and they were imposed the penalties provided for at the time of the commitment of the offences incriminated to them.
When imposing penalties on the accused persons the court also assessed that it was not possible to establish the actions of which of the accused persons had resulted in the heaviest consequences, i.e., killing and bodily injuries of civilian persons. In the absence of such possibilities, the court applied one of the key principles of criminal liability that provides for the interpretation of all doubts in favour of the accused.
The court, considering the time passed after the commitment of the offences and the scope of the offences committed by the accused, as well as their age, decided that imposition of the most severe penalties provided for by the law, or of those close to them, would be obviously non-complying with the principles of justice.
The court did not establish any circumstances, which would mitigate the liability of the accused persons. The liability of the accused was aggravated by the fact that the offences were committed in a group of accomplices, by a generally dangerous way using explosives, explosive materials and military weapons and that the committed offences caused serious consequences.
The court imposed penalties of imprisonment for the terms from 4 to up to 14 years on all the accused. The commencement of the penalty shall be from the start of the execution of the imposed penalty of imprisonment.The judgement may be appealed against within twenty days after the day of its proclamation (the time limit does not apply to the convicts) to the Lithuanian Court of Appeal by submitting an appeal to Vilnius Regional Court.