MOSCOW, March 23 (RAPSI) - Russian national Yuri Mel, who stands accused of implication in clashes erupted in January 1991 after Lithuania declared independence from the USSR, has pleaded not guilty, RIA Novosti reported on Wednesday.
The Vilnius District Court began hearing the case in late January. Lithuania's Prosecutor General's Office has declared 65 citizens of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine defendants in the criminal case opened in the aftermath of the clashes. They were charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, battery, murder, endangering other's wellbeing, as well as unlawful military actions against civilians.
The case is being considered without personal presence of the most part of the accused persons. The judge said earlier that motions for rendering legal assistance have been forwarded to Prosecutor Generals of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Russia and Belarus refused to cooperate.
Only two defendants, Russian nationals Yuri Mel and Gennady Ivanov, are present at the trial. Ivanov gave testimony on Tuesday; he pleaded not guilty as well.
Mel was arrested on Kaliningrad's border with Lithuania on March 12, 2014. Two days later he was placed in detention. The court has repeatedly extended his detention. Prosecutors believe that the man was in a tank that assaulted a TV tower in Vilnius.
Mel denied all charges and stated that he executed the governing bodies’ order on a hair-trigger alert and did not know that they would be sent to the TV tower.
He also said that the events which took place and actions of military servants could not be treated by prosecution as crimes against humanity.
In January 1991, a series of unauthorized protests swept across Lithuania after which Soviet military forces entered the republic. On the night of January 13, Soviet armored vehicles and tanks rolled into the center of Vilnius. Soviet troops clashed with civilians at a local TV tower, leaving 14 dead and over 600 injured.
Security personnel later claimed that the clashes were a result of a provocation, and that the victims were killed by sharpshooters.
On June 4, a court in Vilnius acquitted Boleslav Makutynovich and Vladimir Razvodov, former officers of riot police special unit, who were suspected of committing crimes during the clashes in 1991. The former riot police officers, who live in Russia, were tried in absentia.