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2019.11.13 09:35

Russia's persecution of Lithuanian judges 'attack on EU' – Justice Minister Jankevičius

Russia's ongoing persecution of the judges and prosecutors is an unprecedented attach on the whole of the European Union, Lithuanian Justice Minister Elvinas Jankevičius says.

Russia said in July 2018 it had opened a criminal case against Lithuanian judges and prosecutors involved in the so-called January 13 case, in which the former Soviet Defence Minister Dmitry Yazov and more than 60 other former Soviet officials and military officers were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, the chair of the LIBE committee, said committee members would consider Lithuania's request to move discussions on judicial persecution to the next level and adopt a resolution on Russia's actions.

MEPs who attended the meeting voiced support to Lithuania.

"Lithuanian judges are European judges, I cannot agree more [...] They must be protected from unlawful external interference while performing their duties," Maltese politician Roberta Metsola said.

"If Russia fails to receive a signal from the EU that political persecution of EU citizens and officials is unacceptable, no EU judge, prosecutor or law enforcement official working on any case where the Kremlin denies the guilt of its citizens will feel safe," Lithuanian MEP Rasa Juknevičienė said.

Lithuania's Prosecutor General Evaldas Pašilis said the country had on July 1 received a legal assistance request from Russia which is carrying out an investigation against Lithuanian officials.

The top prosecutor told BNS that Russia asked to question two persons who were convicted in Lithuania as part of the January 13 case but are deemed victims in the Russian case.

"This is an unprecedented assault [...] on judiciary and the rule of law," Pašilis said during a meeting of the European Parliament's LIBE committee. "I strongly believe that any attack against a Lithuanian judge and prosecutor is an attack on the whole of the EU."

Lithuanian Justice Minister Jankevičius says the freedom of movement of Lithuanian law enforcement officials targeted by Russia could be restricted, as Moscow is misusing international criminal search systems.

"If a third state can take such actions against Lithuanian judges and prosecutors, there is no guarantee that tomorrow the same actions couldn't be brought against any [other] EU member state," Jankevičius said.

"Today Lithuanian judges and prosecutors have become a target. Tomorrow it can be the Dutch investigating the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine, the UK working on the Skripals poisoning case in Salisbury, or the Polish attempting to fully investigate the crash of the plane enroute to Katyn in 2010," he added.

In late March, a panel of three judges found 67 citizens of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and issued prison sentences ranging from four to 14 years.

Among those convicted also was Dmitry Yazov, 94, former Soviet defence minister, who was sentenced to ten years in prison in absentia.

Fourteen civilians were killed and hundreds more were wounded when the Soviet troops stormed the TV Tower and the Radio and Television Committee building in Vilnius in the early hours of Jan. 13, 1991.

The Soviet Union used military force to overthrow the Lithuanian government, which declared independence on March 11, 1990.