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In the January Events case, the Court of Appeal of Lithuania changed sentences and awarded compensation for losses suffered by victims

In the January Events case, the Court of Appeal of Lithuania changed sentences and awarded compensation for losses suffered by victims
2021-04-26

The Court of Appeal of Lithuania issued a ruling in the case concerning the judgement of the Vilnius Regional Court of 27 March 2019, whereby 67 persons were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Court of Appeal, although having clarified certain factual circumstances of the case, did not change the essential conclusions of the Regional Court and stated that all the persons charged in the case were reasonably convicted for crimes committed during the events in Vilnius in January 1991, when fourteen people were killed in the course of an attack using military means, prohibited under international law, and more than eight hundred people suffered injuries of varying degrees of seriousness. Criminal proceedings against the former Soviet Minister of Defence Dmitry Jazov were terminated, due to his death.

The court also supported the conclusion of the Vilnius Regional Court that crimes were committed while all the convicted were acting as a group of accomplices, jointly carrying out a planned military operation that had been coordinated at the highest level.

“The actions of each of the convicted were essential to the carrying out of the joint criminal undertaking. Without the initiators of the criminal plan, the planning of the military operation would not have begun, without the planners and coordinators, the specific military actions would not have been planned, the military units would not have been assigned to the operation, such units would not have been supplied with military equipment and weaponry, and without those directly carrying out the military actions, the military operation planned by the initiators and planners would not have been carried out in practice, therefore the actions of all the convicted caused the most serious consequences,” stated the panel of judges considering the case.

However, the verdict of the Regional Court has been changed in certain respects:

  • the length of the imprisonment sentences for 14 of the convicted have been increased;
  • the length of the imprisonment sentences for 2 of the convicted have been reduced;
  • the claims of victims and prosecutors for compensation for losses caused by the crimes have been partially satisfied.

The Court of Appeal stated that in the case there were no grounds for imposing sentences for some of the convicted lower than the minimum penalties provided for in the Criminal Code. Moreover, the Court of Appeal of Lithuania recognised that the officers of the highest rank who initiated, planned, and coordinated the implementation of the operation at the highest level, as well as the officers of the highest rank in command of the combined armed forces during the execution of separate parts of the military operation and the officers whose specific, particularly dangerous actions directly caused the most serious consequences, must be punished more severely than the other convicted, whose leading role was of lesser importance.

The Court of Appeal, having identified clear errors of the Regional Court in assessing the actions of the convicted, reduced the custodial sentences from twelve to ten years for two of the convicted, who had been sentenced more severely than some of their immediate commanders by verdict of the Regional Court.

The panel of judges also acknowledged that the court of first instance had incorrectly decided the civil claims brought in the case and misinterpreted the law, indicating that the victims could not have been awarded compensation for non-pecuniary (moral) losses. It was stated that such position of the court of first instance was unjust and contrary to case law, therefore the victim appealing the decision (the son of a person killed at the TV Tower) was awarded compensation for non-pecuniary losses of EUR 50,000 and his mother (the wife of the person killed) was awarded EUR 75,000 for non-pecuniary losses. A victim, who did not appeal against the judgment, but also requested compensation for non-pecuniary losses, has been recognised as having the right to compensation for non-pecuniary losses, but the specific amount of such compensation will be decided in a civil procedure at the Vilnius Regional Court.

The Court of Appeal concluded that natural persons who have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes under international law and national law are individually liable for the losses caused by their criminal actions, therefore, a civil action for pecuniary damages caused to the Republic of Lithuania could not be left unexamined. The Court of Appeal stated that joint actions of the convicted persons in Lithuania caused pecuniary damages of EUR 10,876,601.75 (disbursements, compensation, special pensions to the persons injured and the relatives of those killed during the criminal acts, as well as expenses incurred by the state when burying and honouring the defenders of Lithuania’s freedom, etc.), therefore compensation for such damages must be awarded jointly and severally from all the convicted.

The judgement of the Court of Appeal of Lithuania shall become effective on the day of its pronouncement, however, it may be appealed to the Supreme Court of Lithuania within three months.

Additional information

Sentences have been lengthened for the following:

  1. For Nikolai Demidov (USSR Deputy Minister of Interior), the sentence was increased from 10 years in prison to 13 years.
  2. For Vasilij Savin (USSR Commander of the Ministry of Interior North-Western Area and Baltic Interior Forces), the sentence was increased from 10 years in prison to 12 years.
  3. For Alexander Žitnikov (Commander of the 42nd Division of the Interior Forces of the USSR Ministry of Interior), the sentence was increased from 10 years in prison to 12 years.
  4. For Vasilij Kustri (Deputy Commander of the 76th Airborne Division of the USSR Airborne Forces), the sentence was increased from 12 years in prison to 15 years.
  5. In accordance with the provisions of Article 54(3) of the Criminal Code, the sentence of Genadij Ivanov (Commander of the Rocket Artillery of the 107th Motorised Infantry Division of the Baltic Military District of the USSR Land Forces) was increased from 4 years in prison to 5 years.
  6. For Yuri Melij (a company commander of the 106th Tank Regiment of the 107th Motorised Infantry Division of the Baltic Military District of the USSR Land Forces), the application of Article 54(3) of the Criminal Code was revoked, and the sentence of 7 years in prison was increased to 10 years.
  7. For Alexej Filimonov (deputy company commander in the 76th Airborne Division of the USSR Airborne Forces), the application of Article 54(3) of the Criminal Code was revoked, and the sentence of 6 years in prison was increased to 10 years.
  8. For Ruslan Junusov (deputy company commander in the 76th Airborne Division of the USSR Airborne Forces), the application of Article 54(3) of the Criminal Code was revoked, and the sentence of 6 years in prison was increased to 10 years.
  9. For Yuri Janochkin (company commander in the 76th Airborne Division of the USSR Airborne Forces), the application of Article 54(3) of the Criminal Code was revoked, and the sentence of 6 years in prison was increased to 10 years.
  10. For Anatolij Ivanicki (Chief of Intelligence of the 237th Regiment of the 76th Airborne Division of the USSR Airborne Forces), the application of Article 54(3) of the Criminal Code was revoked, and the sentence of 4 years in prison was increased to 10 years.
  11. For Aleksandr Cepota (senior technician in a company of the 76th Airborne Division of the USSR Airborne Forces), the application of Article 54(3) of the Criminal Code was revoked, and the sentence of 4 years in prison was increased to 10 years.
  12. For Sergei Fiodorov (Commander of the Convoy Regiment of the 42nd Division of the Interior Forces of the USSR Ministry of Interior), the sentence of 10 years in prison was increased to 12 years.
  13. For Viktor Moroziuk (deputy commander of the training special-purpose company of the Convoy Regiment of the 42nd Division of the Interior Forces of the USSR Ministry of Interior), the application of Article 54(3) of the Criminal Code was revoked, and the sentence of 8 years in prison was increased to 10 years.
  14. For Grigorij Belous (Military Commandant of the Vilnius Garrison), the application of Article 54(3) of the Criminal Code was revoked, and the sentence of 4 years in prison was increased to 10 years.

The sentences were reduced for the following:

  1. For Eduard Mikhailov (company commander in the 76th Airborne Division of the USSR Airborne Forces), the sentence of 12 years in prison was reduced to 10 years.
  2. For Aleksandr Sidorkov (company commander in the 76th Airborne Division of the USSR Airborne Forces), the sentence of 12 years in prison was reduced to 10 years.

The decision of the Court shall be published in the Information Systems of Lithuanian Courts (LITEKO) in the Lithuanian language, here:

Case No. 1A-34-1020/2021