National Press Club

Lithuanian former journalist says country tried to deny speech, send him to prison

June 7, 2012 | By Robert Webb | rewebb@aol.com

Lithuanian journalist and politician, Algirdas Paleckis speaks at a June 7, 2012 National Press Club Newsmaker about his pending imprisonment for "denying Soviet Agression against Lithuania."

Lithuanian journalist and politician, Algirdas Paleckis speaks at a June 7, 2012 National Press Club Newsmaker about his pending imprisonment for "denying Soviet Agression against Lithuania."

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Algirdas Paleckis, a Lithuanian politician, diplomat and former investigative journalist, said June 7 his country failed to investigate what he considers a sniper attack on innocent civilians in January of 1991.

"Lithuania broke away from the USSR in late 1991, but earlier, in January 1991, the Soviet troops took over the Vilnius TV center and 14 people died," Paleckis said at a National Press Club Newsmaker. "The Lithuanian government blamed the troops but presented practically no evidence and until now did not bring the investigation to the end."

Paleckis said he did his own investigation of the 1991 event and "found many witnesses, and also the ballistic expertise indicating that there were secret snipers shooting from the roofs of houses into the civilians in January, 1991 at the Vilnius TV center.''

``It appears in January, 1991, our own people were shooting at their natives."

Paleckis described himself as active in the Socialist People's Front, a board member of "World Without Nazism," a human rights organization, and a speaker of six languages. Born in 1971, he is a graduate of Vilnius University with degrees in journalism and political science. He is a former member of the Lithuanian Parliament and former Vice-Mayor of Vilnius, the capital.

As result of his claims, Paleckis said the country's ruling party "initiated a trial against him by writing a letter to the state prosecutor." He was charged with "denying the Soviet aggression against Lithuania." He said he won the first court handling the charges but faces "the crucial appeal session of the court scheduled for June 12." He said he could be sent to prison for two years if convicted.

"This law is in a fundamental conflict with the international treaties protecting freedom of speech," Paleckis said.

Asked about the snipers' motives, Paleckis said he thought the government of that day wanted to generate sympathy as Russian troops tried to stage a coup in the last days of the Soviet Union. But he said ballistic expertise showed the path of the bullets from "hunting guns" couldn't have been fired by the Russians.