24 Nov 2021

6 years in Lithuanian prison for investigative journalism

(The following is a brief explainer and update on the case of Algirdas Paleckis, a Lithuanian journalist currently subject to prosecution on "espionage" charges. The case is an example - along with that of Julian Assange - of how espionage law is being misused in Europe and further abroad to stifle dissent, and how the space for challenging Europe's foreign policy orthodoxy is shrinking.

Photos from my recent visit to Lithuania along with MEPs Mick Wallace and Tatjana Ždanoka to support Paleckis can be found here:  https://www.facebook.com/judejimas.ausra/photos/pcb.139925711712862/139906478381452 )

Algirdas Paleckis (50) is a Lithuanian journalist and politician who was arrested on charges of “espionage for Russia” in 2018. He spent 17 months in the solitary confinement cell before any trial started and is under house arrest since 2020.

In July this year the district court sentenced him to 6 years in prison. A. Paleckis appealed. The district court completely ignored the lack of evidence (see below) and just copy-pasted into its verdict the final speech of the prosecutor. Many Lithuanian courts are known for their dependency on the Government, so A. Paleckis risks spending another 6 years in jail, as the final ruling of the Appeal court approaches (in January or February next year).

The journalist is accused of “gathering and passing to Russia” information about Lithuanian judges who investigated the events of 1991 in Vilnius, as Soviets troops clashed with civilians. However, no proof of it was presented in the court – no documents, or files, or any other type of information allegedly “gathered” by A. Paleckis. Moreover, no person has been identified as a foreign agent who “gave instructions” to him, so no link to foreign services was established.

The prosecutor claims that A. Paleckis contacted with “unidentified” foreign agent, but the whole accusation is based on the testimony of a witness who is a convicted pedophile (Deimantas Bertauskas). It is also based on the secret memos of Lithuanian secret services. Part of the court sittings were also held secret, although the prosecutor admitted that there are no state secrets in A. Paleckis case.

As a journalist and politician, A. Paleckis has been a long-time critic of the Government. His “guilt” was to make his journalistic investigation into the events of 1991 in Vilnius. The authorities feel quite uneasy about this topic, as they already fined him for such investigation in 2012. During its last sitting (on the 16th of November 2021 in Vilnius) Lithuania’s Court of Appeal decided:

  • to reject A. Paleckis’ request to make the psychological expertise of the sole witness in the case who is a convicted pedophile (D. Bertauskas) and on whose testimony the whole case is based. This person was acquitted as a reward for his “testimony”. A parallel exist here with J. Assange case, where a pedophile gave testimony against J. Assange.
  • to reject A. Paleckis’ request to interrogate Mr Butkevicius (a high-ranking official during the events of 1991).
  • to approve A. Paleckis request and ask the State Security Department to present to the court the protocols of secrete interrogations of the mentioned witness. These protocols are still secrete, which is a juridical nonsense because accusation against A. Paleckis are based on them.

The next court sitting is due on 12th of January 2022. If the court will not receive the mentioned secret protocols of secret interrogations (which is quite likely), then final speeches will be pronounced, and the court will convene for a verdict at some point in January or February 2022. The verdict will come into force immediately.