The Trial of Petkus, 10-13 July 1978 (50.5)

<<No. 50 : November 1978>>

From 10 to 13 July the Supreme Court of the Lithuanian SSR examined the case of Viktoras Petkus, charged under Article 68, part 2 (“anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”), Article 70 (“organizational activity and taking part in an anti-Soviet organization”), Article 122, part 2 (“sodomy”) and Article 241, part 3 (“the involving of minors in drunkenness”) of the Lithuanian Criminal Code.

Ignotas (CCEs 32, 38, 39 and 40) presided over the court, and the People’s Assessors were E. Bedulskaya and Ju. Dabulevicius. The State Prosecutor was Bakucionis and the Social Prosecutor was A. Dziska, director of the A. Vienuolis secondary school in Vilnius (in 1976 the Chronicle reported the expulsion of seven teenage boys from this school, see CCEs 42 and CCE 43.12.) There was no defence counsel.

Viktoras Petkus, 1928-2012

Viktoras Petkus (b. 1928) was arrested for the first time in 1948 and sentenced for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”. In 1957 he was arrested a second time and sentenced to 8 years on the same charge Petkus served his sentence in Mordovia.

After his release Petkus worked in the People’s Art Society of the Lithuanian SSR, was the administrator of a church for a while, and, before his arrest, worked as a technician in a hospital.

Petkus has a good knowledge of Lithuanian literature, history and art. He worked on a translation of the Bible for several years. (There is as yet no complete translation of the Bible in Lithuanian.)

Petkus was constantly surrounded by young people, to whom he taught Lithuanian history and culture and with whom he discussed religious topics. The KGB took measures to put a stop to these meetings with young people (CCEs 40, 42 and 43).

Petkus was one of the founders of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group (see CCE 43.12). He was arrested on 23 August 1977 (CCE 47). See CCE 47 and CCE 48.3 for the investigation of his case.


In a large courtroom (more than 100 places) about 40 places were taken by members of the “special public”. Nonetheless, Petkus’s numerous friends and sympathizers were told, as usual, that the hall was “full”. Admission was allowed to the court-building; 50 or more people gathered in the foyer, by the doors of the courtroom itself. Many had travelled from other towns to attend the trial.

Viktoras Petkus’s only living relative is his brother Ceslovas, who lives in a village and works as a shepherd. Ceslovas Petkus found out about his brother’s trial by chance, and then only on the final day.

Petkus, who had taken no part in the pre-trial investigation, also refused any part in the trial. He demonstratively ignored the court procedure. Escorts led him into the hall, holding his arms behind his back. He did not rise when the members of the court entered the hall, and when the Judge addressed him he neither answered his questions nor made any statements. He even listened to the verdict sitting down.

On the first day the indictment was read out. As far as one can judge from the text of the verdict, under Article 68 Petkus was charged with 12 documents of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group (CCEs 43 and 47) and with keeping “anti-Soviet” literature, including four issues of the journal God and the Motherland (CCEs 43 and 46); under Article 70 he was charged with an attempt to organize the “Chief Committee of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian National Movements” (for the Estonian-Latvian-Lithuanian Committee, see CCE 47), and, possibly, with taking part in the founding of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group!

With regard to the charge under Article 122 it was stated in the verdict that on 15 March 1973, having made Rimantas Civilis drunk, “he crudely performed a sexual act with him”.

Of the 30 witnesses called, 25 appeared at the trial.


On 11 July in the morning the witnesses Rimantas Civilis and his mother were questioned regarding Article 122. While they were being questioned the court was announced closed. R. Civilis is at present serving in the army. He was accompanied to the trial by two sergeants. The interruption of the trial the day before was apparently due to his absence. At Civilis’s request he was allowed to leave before the end of the court session. He was led out via a different exit.

Following this, witnesses were questioned regarding Article 241.

In reply to the question, “Did you ever have occasion to drink alcohol with the accused?” Dainius Seputis said: “Yes, on major holidays.”

“Did you drink a lot?”

“200 to 300 grams each of dry wine.”

“Did you drink brandy as well?”

“No, we didn’t drink brandy.”

“Did you used you to spend the night at the accused’s house afterwards?”

“I have my own house.”

Seputis said that Regimantas Paulionis also drank in his presence at Petkus’s house. Dainius’s mother testified at the trial that her son had started drinking wine when he left school, before he and Petkus started meeting. The brothers Regimantas and Edmundas Paulionis were also questioned. They testified that they had nothing bad to say about Petkus; they knew him from the church where they had served; they had never seen him drunk.

On the Judge’s request the testimony of R. Paulionis given at the pre-trial investigation was read out: “Petkus suggested having a drink. We were celebrating his birthday on 9 March. I used to get drunk from time to time. I saw that Petkus was getting Seputis drunk as well.” R. Paulionis said that he had been brought to the interrogation from his brother’s wedding, that he was frightened and not sober, and had testified according to the investigators’ instructions. Nevertheless, the court considered his first testimony valid and referred to it in the verdict. In the verdict it was stated that from 1971 to 1977 Seputis and Petkus drank together 12 or 13 times, and that Regimantas Paulionis also drank with them.

The father of the Paulionis brothers, and M. Gabrys and M. Buracas, were also questioned regarding Article 241. They did not endorse the charge.


At approximately 5.00 pm the questioning of witnesses on the ‘political’ articles began. In connection with the Estonian-Latvian-Lithuanian Committee six former political prisoners: two Estonians, three Latvians and Birute Pasiliene (CCEs 45, 47 and 48) were questioned.

The Estonian Enn Tarto (CCEs 2, 47, and 48) asked the court to explain the charges against Petkus.

“The witness does not need to know this.”

“In that case I refuse to take part in the trial.”

The Estonian Mart Niklus (CCEs 42, 43, 47 and 48) at first tried repeatedly to engage an Estonian-Lithuanian interpreter (there were only Lithuanian-Russian, Latvian-Russian and Estonian-Russian interpreters in the hall). He asked the court the same question as Tarto:

“You are in a courtroom. You are here to answer questions, not to ask them. When was the last time Petkus was in Tartu?”

“About a year ago in the summer.”

“A forensic examination has established that several documents confiscated from Petkus’s house were printed in Russian on your typewriter. What have you to say about that?”

“The thing is, the KGB have been showing a keen interest in my typewriters for several years now. Moreover, during one of the searches the keys to my flat disappeared. I suspect that KGB officials simply visit my flat when l am not there and type whatever they like on my typewriter. When they confiscated it they forgot to seal it. This, by the way, is a serious violation of the procedure governing searches. The documents under discussion could, therefore, have been typed after my typewriter was confiscated.”

“How did Petkus come by your autobiography?”

“I typed it myself. How Petkus came by it I don’t know, I can’t remember.”

“In the summer of 1977 Pylva-Moscow tickets were found during a search of your flat. Why did you intend to go to Moscow?”

“I wanted to travel during my vacation.”

On the same day Niklus handed in a declaration to the court:

“In accordance with Article 159 of the new Constitution of the USSR I request that the speeches of those taking part in the trial be translated from Lithuanian into Estonian or Russian. Non-Lithuanian witnesses in the hall who have an interest in this trial have the right to full information on the court sessions at which they are present.”

(After two days Judge Ignotas informed Niklus: “You will receive an answer in a month’s time, in accordance with regulations”.)

The Latvian Inc Calitis (CCE 47) described Petkus as a good, honest, responsible man and said that he knew nothing about the case against him.

“However, at the pre-trial investigation, during a confrontation with Kalnins (CCEs 41 and 46-48) you confirmed his testimony.”

“Yes, I confirmed that during a search of my flat materials concerning the Chief Committee of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian National Movements were taken, but these materials are not, in my opinion, anti-Soviet, and cannot be used against Petkus under Article 68. Therefore, I do not intend to speak about them.”

“Did Petkus and Kalnins meet at your flat?”

“No matter who met at my flat, this bears no relation to the charges against Petkus.”

The Judge read out the testimony given by Calitis at the pre-trial investigation; Petkus brought with him texts of the Estonian-Latvian-Lithuanian Committee, Kalnins translated them into Latvian, and Calitis typed them out on his typewriter.

“I request the court to consider my testimony as invalid as I was blackmailed at the pre-trial investigation.”

The Latvian Juris Ziemelis (CCEs 47 and 48) also described Petkus in positive terms and said that he knew nothing about the case against him.

“Your name, too, figures in the documents of the Estonian-Latvian-Lithuanian Committee.”

“It was not until after Petkus’s arrest that I found out about the creation of the Committee and my inclusion in it. Kalnins told me about it. I know nothing about Petkus’s role in the Committee, but Kalnins was the one who had the idea of founding it.”

The Judge referred to the testimony Ziemelis gave at the pre-trial investigation concerning his conversation with Kalnins about Petkus’s role in the creation of the Committee.

“The Riga KGB obtained this testimony unlawfully: they blackmailed myself and others. Kalnins agreed to give the testimony the investigators needed and thus bought himself an exit visa. He is now in the USA.”

(Not long before the trial Kalnins emigrated from the USSR; he was, nevertheless, called as a witness and the court secretary, who called the witnesses each day, gave his name also. With regard to Kalnins see also “The Trial of Ginzburg” CCE 50.3.)

“If the court deems it possible to build the prosecution case on such evidence as this, I refuse to take part in such a trial.”

The Latvian Ivar Zukovskis (CCEs 32 and 33) said that he knew nothing about the case against Petkus.

“When and in what circumstances did you make the accused’s acquaintance?”

“In Riga in 1976.”

“In 1977 Kalnins phoned you, said Lithuanians had come, and asked you to come over.”

“I can’t answer. I don’t remember.”

Kalnins’s testimony was read out:

“In 1977 Petkus came to Latvia to arrange the founding of the Estonian-Latvian-Lithuanian Committee. Soon afterwards another meeting took place — in Trakai. From 15 to 17 August Petkus was in Riga, where he directed the preparation of the Committee’s documents.”


Karolis Garuckas, a member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group, greeted Petkus on behalf of those unable to gain admission to the courtroom and declared his solidarity with him. He refused to sign the warning about responsibility for false testimony: “A true believer cannot lie.”

Referring to the testimony given by Garuckas at the pretrial investigation, the Judge asked him to confirm that he was not acquainted with all the Group’s documents under which his name appeared. Garuckas answered that the investigator had been questioning him for seven hours and he was very tired. He denied the testimony he had given at the pre-trial investigation:

“I too belong to the Helsinki Group. Our declarations are founded on fact. If you want, you can try me as well. I will be happy if my fate is the same as that of Bishop Reinys [Note 5], Father Andruska [Note 6], and other martyrs who perished in the camps.”

Ona Lukauskaite-Poskiene, a member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group, said:

“I know member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group Viktoras Petkus; I am a member myself. I know Petkus to be a good, honest and cultured man. I request that legality be restored and the case be closed. I wrote a protest and I repeat: an innocent man is on trial. Therefore, I refuse to take part in the trial.”

Jonas Volungevicius (CCE 47), a former political prisoner, also declared that the trial was unlawful and refused to take part in it. “Did you really sign the declaration concerning Algimantas Zipre?” (CCEs 32, 34 and 37).

“Yes, I did sign the declaration concerning Zipre, who was illegally placed in a camp psychiatric block. This is the first and last question I shall answer.”

Jadviga Petkeviciene, a nurse from the town of Siauliai (CCEs 44 and 47), declared, as the two preceding witnesses had done, that the trial was unlawful, and refused to testify. While returning to her place she took a rose from her corsage and handed it to Petkus, but the guard took the flower from him and gave it back to Jadviga.

Birute Pasiliene said that she did not know Petkus and could not testify.

“During a search of your flat documents of the so-called Estonian-Latvian-Lithuanian Committee were confiscated, similar to those found at Petkus’s flat. Furthermore, both sets were typed on the same typewriter, the one belonging to you. What have you to say to this?”

“I can say nothing. Some strangers brought the typewriter to my flat while I was not there. The dates on the documents are days when I was away, so I could not have typed them.”

“Was somebody home when the strangers brought the typewriter?”

“Yes, my mother. She died in April.”

“Did you sign the document about Algimantas Zipre?”

Yes, and I was glad to hear he had been let out of the psychiatric block. This means that I acted correctly. It was necessary to defend 2ipre.”

Romas Ragaisis, an optical technician and former political prisoner from Vilnius, refused to testify at the trial. He was called in connection with his declaration to the Lithuanian Helsinki Group concerning the placing of certain people in psychiatric hospitals.

The wife and daughter of Genrikas Jaskunas (CCEs 44 and 48) were also questioned about the declarations they had written in his defence. They both testified that they did not know the accused. Ina Jaskunaite testified that she had written the declaration.

“Who advised you to act in this way?”

“Some men I did not know came and said I should.”

“Have a look, was the accused one of them?”

“No, the accused was not one of them.”

“Why did you think that your father might be placed in a psychiatric hospital?”

“I had heard that many political prisoners were put there.”

On 12 July the witnesses of the preceding day were not admitted to the courtroom. On this day a film was being shot and photographs were taken in the hall, the foyer and around the court-building, The questioning of witnesses continued.


The sisters Marija and Ona Poskute, from whom Petkus had rented his flat, testified. (When they entered the hall a man with a red armband asked them: “What testimony are you going to give?” They replied: “We will answer the questions asked.”)

Marija Poskute said that everyone loved Petkus and many young people used to go to see him.

“Did Petkus and his guests often drink alcohol?”

“Heaven forbid, I cleaned his flat every day and never found a single cork there, let alone a bottle.”

(At these words Procurator Bakucionis clasped his hands together and exclaimed in Russian: “Well, how d’you like that!”)

Ona Poskute, like her sister, refused to sign the warning about responsibility for false testimony: “I am a believer and therefore will not tell lies to anybody.”

“If only there were a few more sons like Viktoras in Lithuania!”

“Did your lodger drink alcohol with young people?”

“He lived with us for more than ten years and nothing of the sort ever happened.”

Ceslovas Kavaliauskas, who worked with Petkus for two years on his translation of the Bible, gave a favourable description of him. “Did you used you to drink with the accused?”

“On holidays we might have a drink.”

“Did boys drink with you?”

“No, they didn’t.”

“Did any of the schoolchildren spend the night at Petkus’s flat?”

“During holidays two or three of them might stay the night.”

Eitan Finkelstein, a member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group, was also called to appear as a witness, but did not go to the trial. In the declaration he submitted to the court he stated:

“Like V. Petkus, I am a member of the Lithuanian Group to Assist the Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements. Like V. Petkus, I bear responsibility for the Group’s activities and for all the documents it issues. In refusing to give testimony as a witness in the Petkus case, I declare that I can take part in the trial only as a defendant.”


On 13 July at the entrance to the court-building (on this day almost everyone was removed from the foyer) there was a crowd of about 100 people. Young people were handing out red carnations to all the sympathizers. About 40 people, mainly youngsters, stood at the wide porch reading prayers together. As on the previous day, a film was being shot inside and outside. Mecislovas Jurevicius (CCEs 36, 40 and 44) was approached by several KGB officers who tried to take him away, but Petkus’s friends surrounded him and they left him alone.

At; approximately three o’clock K. Garuckas, O. Lukauskaite-Poskiene, the Poskute sisters and Antanas Terleckas (CCEs 37, 40, 43 and 47-49) were allowed into the hall for the reading of the verdict. However, Baltinas, a KGB Lieutenant-Colonel, stopped Tatyana Velikanova, who had come from Moscow: “You have no business here!”

In reply to her objection — “The verdict must always be heard with the doors open” — he threw her to the ground. In a declaration addressed to the Procurator of the Lithuanian SSR, Velikanova writes:

“I can evaluate the actions of Lieutenant-Colonel Baltinas either as exceeding his authority and as hooliganism, or as a conscious device to provoke a corresponding reaction and thus create disorder in the building of the Supreme Court.”

In the verdict it was stated that Petkus, “under the pretext of working for the Helsinki Group, was engaged in anti-Soviet agitation”; that Tomas Venclova had been authorized to represent the Group abroad (CCE 44) and had used its documents for “libellous articles in the emigre press”.

The episodes relating to the Estonian-Latvian-Lithuanian Committee were substantiated in the verdict by the testimonies of Kalnins, Calitis (the court ignored Calitis’s retraction of the testimony he gave at the pre-trial investigation) and, in part, of Ziemelis, and also by referring to a Radio Liberty programme of 25 August 1977. In the verdict it was stated that Petkus agitated for the creation of the Estonian-Latvian-Lithuanian Committee “with the aim of restoring bourgeois rule” in the Baltic republics.


The sentence was as follows:

  • under Article 241, 3 years in camps;
  • under Article 122, 4 years;
  • under Articles 68 and 70, ten years in special-regime camps, the first three years to be spent in prison, followed by five years of exile.

The total sentence coincided with the sentence under Articles 68 and 70. The court ruled Petkus to be a particularly dangerous recidivist.

The court also made separate decisions concerning the institution of criminal proceedings against R. Ragaisis for his refusal to testify (on 5 September he was sentenced to 6 months corrective labour), and the fact that the command of a military unit had not ensured that R. Civilis appeared in court at the correct time.

On 16 July the newspapers Soviet Lithuania (in Russian) and Tiesa (in Lithuanian) published an article by B. Baltrunas entitled “On the Road of Lies and Crime” about Petkus and his trial.