Lithuania bans Russian TV station over 'lies'

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuania banned broadcasts of a Russian TV channel for three months on Friday for showing a film that authorities said lied about events in 1991, when the Soviet army tried unsuccessfully to remove its pro-independence government.

Tensions between the Baltic states, including Lithuania, and Russia have risen since the Ukraine crisis. The former Soviet republics fear Moscow is trying to destabilize their region, which like Crimea also has large Russia-speaking minorities.

A Lithuanian court upheld a move by a media watchdog to suspend the Gazprom-owned NTV Mir after it broadcast the movie this month, on the eve of the 24th anniversary of Lithuania’s declaration of independence from Soviet Union.

“The movie intentionally spread lies about events in Lithuania on January 13, 1991 ... mocking the Lithuanian people and scorning the memory of the fighters for Lithuanian freedom,” Lithuania’s broadcast watchdog, which asked for the ban, said in a statement.

In January 1991, 13 civilians were killed in Vilnius as the Soviet army stormed a TV tower and the headquarters of the TV station.

Russian media sometimes insist that the civilians were killed by undercover Lithuanians in order to discredit the Soviet army, something that Lithuania denies.

The three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, part of NATO and the European Union since 2004, still in large part depend on Russia for energy and trade and have sizeable Russian-speaking minorities.

A similar three-month ban on rebroadcasts of Russia’s state-owned Channel One was imposed by Lithuania in October, also for alleged lies about January 1991 events.

(This version of the story corrects second paragraph to say tension is between Baltic states and Russia, and not between Baltic states)

Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Toby Chopra