On November 29, 1983, in the Supreme Court of the LSSR in Vilnius, the trial of the Pastor of the parish of Kybartai, member of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius began. For this judicial doing-in of Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, the KGB prepared very carefully, in advance. During the summer, diocesan chanceries received written instructions forbidding the collection outside churches of signatures to protest and petitions.
The Chief Judge of the Supreme Court, speaking over Lithuanian television, threatened penalties for those collecting signatures and even for those signing. The KGB, in more than one place, took direct brutal action against those collecting signatures. Several times, disinformation was spread among the people to the effect that the trial had taken place outside Vilnius, and Father Tamkevičius had been sentenced to twelve years. Hence, many people, hearing about the correct date for the trial, thought they were being misled and they arrived late for the trial, or never came.
With the approach of the trial date, most organizations were warned that at the end of November and the beginning of December, they should not let their employees off from work. Some students, and pupils of special schools, were warned by the school administration that if they wished to avoid unpleasantness, and wanted to continue their studies, they should not attend the trial, but should postpone even personal business in the area of Vilnius.
In health care facilities, strict monitoring of written excuses from work was introduced. Priests and lay people sympathetic to Father Sigitas Tamkevičius were warned in advance not to attend the trial, or else during the trial, they were summoned to various agencies under one pretext or another (some of them for interrogation).
Even Father Tamkevičius' brothers were not informed about the "public" trial. During the trial, only three brothers of Father Tamkevičius were admitted into the courtroom. The chekists would not admit to the courtroom his sister-in-law, who had raised Sigitas Tamkevičius, orphaned from childhood; in their opinion, a brother's wife is not a relative.
During the trial, all the churches of Vilnius and the surrounding area were kept under surveillance by the KGB. In order not to attract attention, the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, contrary to procedure during the trial of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, was clear. Almost everyone who came was allowed into the courthouse vestibule, where officials would politely announce to them that they should not bother, but should go home, because they would not be allowed into the courtroom ("There is no room"!)
If they came back, the militia and KGB would place them in vehicles like people under arrest, and take them for interrogation to the Militia Department, where they sentenced them to jail, or having detained them until closing time and warning them not to show their faces in Vilnius during the trial, they would take them to bus terminals or railroad stations. In just this way, Father Antanas Jokubauskas, Pastor of Pociunėlė, was detained.
The priests: Pastor of Griškabūdis, Father Vytautas Užkuraitis, and the Associate Pastor of Alytus, Father Antanas Gražulis, were warned that if they did not leave the vestibule they would be detained. Father Jonas Boruta was detained on the street by officials, and then driven to the Rayon of Lenin Militia Station, where he was interrogated for several hours by militia functionaries. Similarly detained was Father Jonas Kauneckas.
The priests and faithful who came for the trial each day used to gather at the shrine of Aušros Vartai (Our Lady of the Dawn Gate), and in the Church of Saint Theresa nearby, where they would pray almost the whole day: They would assist at Holy Mass, make the Way of the Cross, recite the rosary and sing hymns. During the trial, the faithful were joined in prayer at Aušros Vartai and Saint Theresa's by the priests: Canon Bronius Antanaitis, Algimantas Keina, Vaclovas Stakėnas, Rokas Puzonas, Vytautas Užkuraitis, Gvidonas Dovi-daitis, Jonas Kauneckas, Vincas Vėlavičius, Antanas Gražulis, Jonas Boruta, Antanas Jokubauskas, Leonas Kalinauskas, Juozas Zdebskis,
Father Jonas Kauneckas
Petras Našlėnas, Mykolas Petravičius, Edmundas Paulionis and others.
While praying, the little group of faithful which sometimes totalled about one hundred people, was under constant surveillance by the KGB, or agents they sent. On November 1, 1983, the Commisioner for Religious Affairs, Petras Anilionis, telephoned Father Algirdas Gutauskas, the Administrator of the Archdiocese of Vilnius, demanding that he "straighten things out" at Aušros Vartai, and Saint Theresa's Church.
All those attempting to approach the Supreme Court chambers were treated exactly as people had been during the trial of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas.
On November 29, the first day of the trial, the following were detained in front of the Supreme Court chambers: the Misses Aldona Šukytė, Bronė Valaitytė, Genovaitė Navickaitė, Janina Judikevičiūtė, Giedrė Striokaitė and Romutė Tamašauskaitė. Before they even had a chance to find out whether Father Sigitas Tam-kevičius was really being tried, officials flooded them with questions: "Where are you from?" "Why are you here?" "Do you have permission?" "Your name?", etc.
When the women explained that they had come for the trial of Father Tamkevičius, and requested to be allowed into the courtroom, or at least stay a while in the vestibule to warm up, an order was given to detain them all. Seating them in a bus, the officials carried out a preliminary investigation: They checked their passports, asked from where and why they had come, and took down the information several times over. The six women detained were guarded by thirteen uniformed and civilian officials. Finally, they took them to the "Training School for Junior and Middle-Level Worker-Leaders" in Valakampiai, where they spent the whole time interrogating and lecturing them
The chekists were interested in the following questions: "Do you know the priest on trial?" "Where do your parents end other members of your family live and work?" "With whom do you live yourself?" "How much do you earn?", etc. After they had questioned the women, one of the KGB agents threatened that if they were seen once more outside the courthouse, stricter measures would be taken. At 5:00 PM, they were brought to the bus station; only after lengthy discussion were the women allowed to to to Aušros Vartai. That day, everyone approaching the courthouse was stopped and turned back.
On November 30, the following again were detained on the street, even before they had a chance to approach the courthouse: Bronė Valaitytė, Aldona Šukytė, Algimantas Patackas and Janina Judikevičiūtė.
Aldona Šukytė was segregated, taken to the Militia Station and sentenced to five days in jail. The others were taken outside the city limits and kept in militia facilities until 5:00 PM. They were all warned before two witnesses, that if they showed up once more in front of the courthouse, sterner measures would be taken.
Those detained refused to acknowledge the warning in writing; the witnesses signed in their stead.
The morning of December 1, Kaunas resident, Miss Joana Bukaveckait^, was detained and interrogated by the KGB. About noon, a larger group of people was detained. They were all interrogated by the KGB. Officials took Bron6 Valaitytė, resident of Sasnava, and Janina Judikevičiūtė, a resident of Kapsukas, to the Rayon of Lenin Militia Department, and sentenced them to ten days in jail.
Those who received jail sentences were kept in unsanitary conditions . .. The color of the floor could not be seen in places on account of the dirt, and in spots, it was completely black. Those under sentence had to sleep on that floor. No one gave them anything to spread under them, or to cover themselves. They did not get a towel or a piece of paper. They were allowed to go to the toilet twice a day. In the corner of the cell the whole time stood a malodorous pot with an ill-fitting lid. Not only the air, but even the walls of the cell were permeated with the peculiar stench. The cell doors were opened only twice a day, for a few minutes at a time. The ventilator was turned on once a day, for just a few minutes, and sometimes, not even that much.
Presiding over the trial was Assistant Chief Justice of the LSSR Supreme Court, Ignotas. The Prosecutor was Jurgis Bakučionis. At the beginning of the proceedings, a secretary spent about two and a half hours reading the indictment against Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, including: organizing the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights; drafting its documents and sending them abroad, and to the underground publication, the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania; sermons of an incriminating nature, delivered on various occasions, in about fifteen separate places; group instruction of children; organizing an All Souls' procession to the cemetery; assistance to prisoners; organizing a Christmas party for children, etc.
After the indictment had been read, the judge turned to Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, asking whether he pleaded guilty. The accused did not plead guilty, and spoke in detail and with logical arguments for almost two hours, rebutting all of the court's accusations. In his speech, Father Tamkevičius emphasized: "For six months, seven well-qualified interrogators questioned me, and not one of them could prove that I was involved in anti-Soviet activity, nor was I involved in such, but only defended the rights of believers."
To the accusation that he had assisted prisoners, the defendant answered, "To me, those who have been sentenced for religious beliefs are not convicts, but brothers and sisters!" He also recalled that during the preliminary investigation, he had constant headaches. (A regular phenomenon with those who have spent time in the KGB cellars. — Ed. Note)
After the lunch break, the judge, unable to contain himself, noted, "After listening to all this, Defendant Tamkevičius, it appears that we arrested you on a whim, accidentally, and not as a criminal."
Twenty-eight witnesses were called to testify, three of whom did not show up for the trial. Most of them, except for Fathers Algimantas Keina and Vaclovas Stakėnas, two witnesses from Kybartai, and one other, were KGB agents or their collaborators. Witnesses for the accused were questioned at the end of the session on the 30th, so to all intents and purposes, they hardly spent any time in the courtroom. Some of the witnesses for Father Sigitas Tamkevičius refused to swear in writing that they would tell the truth. One woman from Kybartai stated, "I will not sign, because I am convinced that the signatures of believers have no meaning. About seventy thousand of the faithful signed on behalf of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, but no one paid attention to that." To the admonition of the court that the same laws applied to believers as to others, and she had to sign, the witness replied that here in this court, her conscience did not allow her to sign.
The witnesses spoke mostly about Father Tamkevičius' sermons. Almost all of them "just happened" to drop into church and, having their tape recorders with them, taped the sermons. They all spoke quietly, so that it was difficult for those sitting in the courtroom to hear anything, all the more, to find out the witnesses' names.
At the end of the session on the 30th, the chief judge announced that "Witnesses will not be allowed into court tomorrow", even though the law provides that witnesses after testifying have the right to remain in the courtroom, and if any of them wish to leave, they must ask the prosecutor and the defense attorney whether they would be needed.
After the questioning of witnesses, the documents of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights and other evidence, twenty-three volumes in all, were considered. To the question how the documents of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights came into Yakunin's possession in Moscow, and who had translated them, the priest replied, "I won't answer. First, I don't consider that the translator committed a crime, and secondly, I'm going back. I'll have to resume my work. How will people come to me to confession and what will they think of me if I betray those who are innocent?"
The court, in disclosing and considering evidence against the accused, (e.g. the documents of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights) did not read a single document, or excerpts, but satisfied itself with announcing the number of the document and indicating where they were located in the fde. Constantly repeated were generalities, "The speaker had a tendentious idea", or, "He asked people to fight the Soviet system".
Father Sigitas Tamkevičius' Defense Speech
"I will not burden you with a long speech, even though it would be possible to say much more," spoke Father Tamkevičius. "Prosecutor Bakučionis told you that my file consists of twenty-three volumes of incriminating material, and it would have been possible to fill up twenty-three more volumes. So whether, I speak much or little will not make any difference. I feel not guilty' (Father Tamkevičius would always come into court in a positive mood, smiling, calm and resolute. — Ed. Note). I did everything required of me as a priest. In the Gospel it says that when they were trying Christ, He did not defend Himself. I am a mere priest, and I wish to follow His example. Today my hands are tied, do with me what you will!" (Oral report of the defense speech.)
Prosecutor Bakučionis demanded six years of strict regime camp and four years of exile, under Par. 68,Id.
Father Sigitas Tamkevičius' Final Statement
"... While I was studying at the seminary, my health deteriorated. I thought that I would be unable to continue studies. After two years, they called me up for the army. During the three years of military service, I got well, and succeeded in finishing the seminary. I worked as much as I could, and tried to perform my duties as a priest well. In 1969, they took away my certification as a priest. Many thought that would obstruct me, but on the contrary, everything turned out for the good.
"Lately, my health has seriously deteriorated . . . and on May 6, they arrested me . . . Once, while talking with a Soviet official, I asked, 'What do you personally think of me?' He replied, 'No offense, but I see you as a very shrewd operator, for whom everything succeeded well for a very long time.'
"No, I am not a 'shrewd operator', I am a disciple of Christ, a priest. I love God and people: the elderly and the little ones, the youth — for whom I have given my whole life, and if necessary, later, I will sacrifice my life. I worked wherever God sent me, and now He is sending me where I am most needed. Today, too, He is transferring me from one place to another. I try to accept all the crosses of life from the hand of God, so I accept this cross also, embrace it and kiss it. Praise to Jesus Christ and Mary!" (The final statement orally reported.)
At 3:00 PM on December 2, the decision was handed down, according to which Father Sigitas Tamkevičius was sentenced to six years strict regime camp and four years exile.
To: The Prosecutor General of the USSR Copy to: The Chief Prosecutor of the LSSR From: Aldona Šukytė, daughter of Povilas, residing at Biržiai, Vytauto 15-8 Bronislava Valaitytė, daughter of Jeronimas, residing at Kapsuko Raj., Sasnava Janina Judikevičiūtė, daughter of Jurgis, residing at Kapsukas, Sporto 14-6
In Vilnius, during the trial of Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, before we could even approach the LSSR Supreme Court building, just because we wanted to attend the trial of the accused priest, we were detained and given:
November 30, 1983 — Aldona Šukytė, five days in jail
December 1, 1983 — Bronislava Valaitytė and Janina Judikevičiūtė, ten days in jail.
Such behavior on the part of the KGB is clear proof that an innocent man was being tried, for justice does not fear publicity.
Locked in a cell, although innocent, like the priests who had been sentenced, we have decided to substitute for Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, taking their places in labor camp. Each of us agrees to serve the sentence of both priests together, that is, thirteen years of strict regime camp and seven years of exile.
Prosecutor General, return to Lithuan a these priests who have not committed any crime. If you need Christian blood, let us substitute for these priests, so necessary to our nation, and let us serve their entire sentence.
December 15, 1983
On December 15, 1983, Aldona Šukytė, Bronislava Valaitytė and Janina Judikevičiūtė sent one more petition to the Prosecutor General, in which they protested against the fabrication of the KGB agents. In their petition, they write: "During the trial of Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, November 29, 1983 — December 2, 1983, we were detained before we even reached the Supreme Court, and were taken to the Militia Station where the court sentenced us to jail. We have not committed any crime. As we were leaving, we asked what we had served sentence for. It was explained that we had pushed militiamen and had tried to force our way into the courtroom. Since nothing of the sort happened, we express our strongest protest against such a shameless lie."