Moscow steps up pressure on Lithuania over 1991 crackdown convict (media)

  • 2021-04-29
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Russia's Kremlin-loyal Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova has turned to Seimas Ombudsman Augustinas Normantas, saying that the life of Yuri Mel, a Russian citizen jailed for his role in the January 1991 crackdown on protesters in Vilnius, is in danger, the 15min news website reported on Thursday.  

Lithuania's authorities say Mel has made no complaints to them, and political scientists believe that the Kremlin is thus seeking to divert attention from serious human rights violations in Russia. 

 "To my knowledge, he is being held in a cell with eight other people. I think that his life is in real danger if he becomes infected with COVID-19," Moskalkova said in her letter to Normantas. 

She asked the ombudsman to help ensure "access to qualified medical care" for Mel and "his unhindered return to the territory of the Russian Federation when he has served his sentence".

Vytautas Valentinavicius, head of the Human Rights Bureau at the Seimas Ombudsperson's Office, confirmed to 15min that the office had received Moskalkova's request for mediation in ensuring the Russian citizen's rights to healthcare. 

She was informed that Mel had not filed any complaints and that Lithuanian laws guarantee convicts' rights to personal healthcare services, according to the official.  

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 January 13, 1991.

Mel is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence for his role in the crackdown. The Russian man, who was in one of the tanks that stormed the TV tower, was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  

Mel has been in custody since he was arrested on Lithuania's border in March 2014. The man was initially handed a seven-year jail sentence by a regional court and expected to be released this spring, but the Court of Appeal in late March extended the prison term to 10 years.