The trial of Viktoras Petkus began on July 10, 1978. From the very first day of the trial, a painstaking orchestration of the trial spectacle could be sensed. When the indictment was read on July 10th, Estonians and Latvians—i.e., those witnesses who do not known or understand Lithuania—were summoned and allowed into the courtroom. They only saw that Petkus was forcibly dragged by four militiamen into the courtroom, with his arms pinned back. At the trial, he declared his innocence and refused the services of a lawyer. During the rest of the trial, Petkus blatantly ignored the proceedings, refusing to answer any questions, defend himself or explain, and calmly dozing.
The first session of the trial lasted one and a half hours and court was adjourned until July 11th.
On July 11th, a large group of Petkus' friends and supporters came to the Supreme Court in Vilnius, but were not allowed into the courtroom. The security agent stationed at the courtroom door told each individual wishing to attend the trial that '"there was no room."
The first to be admitted nuu me courtroom were witnesses Rev. K.(arolis) Garuckas, O.(na) Lukauskaitė-Poškienė and R. Ragaišis. To their surprise, they saw the courtroom already full of strange characters although the doors had been locked until they were admitted. After glancing around the room, Ms. Lukauskaitė-Poškienė (member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group) loudly asked Father Garuckas (also a member of the Helsinki Group):
"Are they all witnesses? Maybe they're members of the press. Oh no! They are apparently privileged guests."
And in fact they were extras for the trial spectacle, brought into the courtroom through the service doors to fill up the courtroom so that no room would remain for those sympathizers of Petkus who truly wanted to see and hear the trial proceedings.
A large group of those denied admittance into the courtroom sent a protest to the presiding judge of the Supreme Court but he would not speak with the protesters. His secretary merely stated that the trial was closed.
Shortly a sign was posted on the courtroom doors stating that Petkus was being tried in that room and that the trial was "not public." During the first recess, all the strange characters who had entered the room God knows how also left the courtroom.
The main trial witnesses were questioned under articles 68 and 70 of the Criminal Code only late in the evening. Upon entering the courtroom, each greeted Petkus, said several good words of character reference as "good Catholic, a real Lithuanian, decent, cultivated man," and showing their solidarity with Petkus, refused to testify at all.
Upon entering the courtroom, Father Garuckas greeted Petkus in a Catholic manner and conveyed the greetings of all those not admitted into the courtroom. When asked by the judge whether he knows the accused, he replied that he knows him as a good Catholic and real Lithuanian and a member, like him, of that same Lithuanian group monitoring the Helsinki agreements.
"We worked together, so you can place me next to Petkus in the dock. I would consider it an honor to die in labor camp, as my teachers Bishop Reinys and Father Andriuška died. I refuse to testify any further."
Witness (Mrs.) Jadvyga Petkevičienė handed Petkus a rose which was promptly taken away from him.
"Hail, son of the nation, who sacrificed your freedom for our rights," with these words, Mrs. Petkevičienė expressed the
sentiments of all decent Lithuanians. Ona Lukauskaitė-Poškienė stated:
"I know Victoras Petkus, a member of the Lithuanian Group Monitoring the Helsinki Agreements, as a decent, cultivated and good man. After his arrest, I gave the prosecutor's office a letter of protest of the arrest of an innocent man. Today, I am still convinced of his innocence, and therefore ask Your Honor to restore justice and dismiss the charges. I have completed my statement and will not reply to any other questions."
On July 12th, there began not a Supreme Court session, but a film farce. Arriving witnesses were not admitted into the courtroom. Two movie studio vehicles were parked by the court building and studio employees busied themselves in the courtroom. We do not know whether Presiding Judge Ignotas and Prosecutor Bakučionis acted only as film directors or as film stars as well. Escorted by uniformed men, the young soldier Civilis—the only compromising witness against Petkus—was led into the courtroom. On the second day of the trial, he had tearfully confided to his young friends that at first the security police had forced him to testify when he was completely drunk and unable in essence to understand anything and had agreed with everything he was told to confirm, and that later he could not deny his original testimony. The poor young man! He had never been sexually assaulted by Petkus, but was certainly morally assaulted by those who forced him to give false testimony. The youths who visited Petkus' apartment and there together studied Šapokas' History of Lithuania and religious books have never seen him in Petkus' apartment.
Helsinki Group member E.(itan) Finkelstein submitted a written statement to the Supreme Court:
"I refuse to be a witness at the trial of V.(iktoras) Petkus because, like Petkus, I am a member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group and together with Petkus take full responsibility for the Group's activity and the documents the Lithuanian Helsinki Group drafted. I can attend the trial proceedings only as an accused."
Petkus' landladies were summoned to the courtroom. Both witnesses were asked by a security agent before entering the courtroom whether they would testify and what they would say. When they replied that "we will answer what the judge asks," the witnesses were admitted into the courtroom. (Witnesses questioned at the courtroom doors!?) At the trial, the landladies related that there was never any drinking at the apartment of Petkus who had lived in their apartment eight years, and that they never found an empty bottle, not even a cork, when cleaning his room. Young people used to assemble at Petkus' apartment, but they behaved properly and politely.
Not expecting such testimony, prosecutor Bakučionis merely spread out his hand and shouted in Russian: Nu, vot! (There you are!)
Testimony from the Latvian KalninS was read at the trial on the planned founding of a committee to liberate Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Testimony detrimental to Petkus' case was bought from Kalninš with permission for him to leave for the West. And, in fact, even before the start of the trial, Kalninš and his family were already in the West. But, on the basis of his own testimony, he should have been sitting next to Petkus in the dock. Where is the logic in this? One member of the organization gets prison, the other freedom in the West.
The trial was filmed all throughout July 12th.
On July 13th, the witnesses were again denied entry into the courtroom. High and low ranking security agents constantly buzzed around those standing in the vestibule. The conduct of those waiting was solemn and peaceful. Prior to the trial session, the security police and militia expelled from the courtroom vestibule all who had come to attend the trial, except for the witnesses. The assembled youth calmly left and regrouped on the wide court building steps. An armful of carnations appeared from somewhere and were handed out to the witnesses and the assembled youth.
Holding the carnations, the youths and Petkus' friends congregated on one side of the steps and began to say the rosary in unison. Security agents, militiamen and auxiliary policemen stood nearby, and a militia vehicle waited on hand in the street. A large crowd of Vilnius residents stared at this unusual sight from the windows of the Library of the Republic.
Never before having encountered such a form of protest, the militia and security police became confused and did not know how to act. A film studio cameraman, or perhaps a security agent, came up and began to film the praying people from all sides. One of the witnesses pulled out a camera and began to photograph the cameraman. After finishing their prayers, the youths smiled and thanked the cameraman for his efforts. After a short break, the young people continued to pray the rosary for the accused Viktoras Petkus.
After the lunch recess, the witnesses saw that the courtroom was already full of people who had assembled through the service doors. The security police admitted only five persons into the courtroom: A.(ntanas) Terleckas, O.(na) Lukauskaitė-Poškienė, Father K.(arolis) Garuckas and Petkus' landladies. The others were savagely shoved away from the doors, and Muscovite T. Velikanova was so brutally pushed by Lieut. Col. Baltinas that she fell to the floor.
The court found Viktoras Petkus to be especially dangerous recidivist and sentenced him to three years in strict regime labor camps and, in addition, five years in exile.
The court also decided to prosecute Ragaišis for refusing to testify at the trial.
And so this cruel courtroom tragi-comedy came to an end.
N.B. The proceedings of Viktoras Petkus' trial are reported on the basis of the written account of a person who attended the trial.