Helene Flautre, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Human Rights, European Parliament
Re: Violations of rights in Chechen arrest and trial in Lithuania

2 March 2009

Dear Ms Flautre,
We are writing to you to raise our concerns about the violations of human rights of a Chechen family in Lithuania. We are of the opinion that the arrest and the ongoing trial Mr. and Mrs. Gataev in Kaunas, Lithuania, exhibits violations of human dignity and presumption of innocence and right to defence, as spelled out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, violations of the right to a fair trial as spelled out in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as well protection of the dignity of the human being, presumption of innocence and the right to a public and fair hearing of his case by an independent and impartial court, as stipulated by the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.

Malik and Khadizhat Gataev were arrested in Kaunas, Lithuania on 15 October 2008. Until their arrest, the couple ran two large orphanages for children from Chechnya, one in Grozny, Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation, and one in Kaunas, Lithuania. Khadizhat Gataeva has been featured in many journalistic accounts, films (for example, “Three Rooms of Melancholia” by Finnish director Pirjo Honkasalo) and a recent book by Asne Seierstad, The Angel of Grozny. She has been collecting orphans from the streets of Grozny and elsewhere since the first war broke out in Chechnya. Mrs. Gataeva first established an orphanage in a refugee camp in Ingushetia, with help from foreign sponsors, and later moved back to Grozny. The husband Malik Gataev has been residing in Lithuania for the past decade and until his arrest was running another orphanage there. Mrs Gataeva kept alternating from Chechnya to Lithuania.

The arrest of Mr and Mrs Gataev was carried out by the Lithuanian State Security Department (SSD), even if the nature of the charge against the Gataev - extortion of money from their adult children (out of 17 children of the orphanage eight are young adults) - demands an involvement of the Criminal Police. The extortion charge brought against the Gataev does not fall under the authority of State Security Department whose main tasks are intelligence, counterintelligence, protection of state secrets, anti-terrorist activities and protection of national economy and strategic objects.

The SSD has been heavily involved in the Gataev case ever since the arrest of Mr and Mrs Gataev and has - in close cooperation with Kaunas Regional Prosecutor’s Office - taken arbitrary measures and thus influenced both the pre-trial investigation and the trial process. The first private lawyer, Mr Dalius Mecelica, who started working on the case in October 2008, dropped it shortly after his spouse was ‘warned’ that she would lose the job if her husband continued working on the case.

The SSD initially blocked any access to the Gataev orphanage and kept it under strict surveillance. Evidence at our disposal indicates that the adult children of the orphanage were subjected to psychological pressure by the State Security Department and forced to report and cooperate with its agents, which in the end resulted in some of them testifying against their foster parents.

We also possess evidence that the Prosecutor in charge of the case, Ms Nomeda Oškutyte, and SSD are currently putting pressure on the adult children of the orphanage who are considered to be victims in the case but want to provide positive testimonies in defence of their foster parents. Last week, one of the adult children, Denis Volkovskoi, expressed his wish to provide positive evidence in person during the second hearing in the case at Kaunas City District Court on 24 February 2009. The court, however, took a decision to have a close case hearing and did not ask opinion of the victims present at the hearing, Denis Volkovskoi and Magomedsalakh Gabaev. Next morning, 25 February, the SSD agents took Denis Volkovskoi to the SSD Kaunas office where he was interrogated for six hours by 6-7 employees. During the interrogation session, the agents threatened to imprison the Chechen youth for two years if he refused to provide evidence against his foster parents, or deport him from Lithuania. After Denis refused to change his position, they suggested that the best option for him would be to leave Lithuania till the court trial was over. After the interrogation Denis Volkovskoi was diagnosed with a psychological trauma and started undergoing medical treatment (report of medical examination is available upon request).

Prosecutor Nomeda Oškutyte and two employees of SSD visited the orphanage also on 13 Jan 2009, the day of the first court hearing in the Gataev case. The prosecutor and VSD agents asked the young adults how they had found out about the hearing and, in an attempt of intimidation, the prosecutor vaguely threatened to detain some of the youths.

The SSD has also been putting constant pressure on the friends and supporters of the Gataev family who showed interest in their arrest and tried to help them and the children of the orphanage. Thus some of the Gataev friends and acquaintances were detained for short periods and harassed by SSD agents. On 2 February 2009, Prosecutor Oškutyte with two law enforcement agents arrived at the office of a translation company in Kaunas, which belongs to the family friend sand supporter Gintautas Bukauskas. Law enforcement agents raided the office and confiscated two desktop computers and all the available files of documents, thus effectively depriving Mr and Mrs Bukauskas from the means to run their business and earn income. The prosecutor remarked that the company of Mr Bukauskas had been “very active” in the Gataev case and that he had obtained a lot of testimony letters from the acquaintances of Malik and Khadizhat Gataev to be presented at the court. The prosecutor also told Mrs Bukauskas that if she does not want her husband detained for two weeks, he should better stay away from the Gataev case. As we were preparing to send the letter to you, we received news about another raid by the Prosecutor Oškutyte and SSD, which was carried out at the company of Mr and Mrs Bukausksas today, 2 March 2009. Mr Bukauskas has now been arrested for 48 hours.

The SSD and the Kaunas Regional Prosecutor’s Office also appear to have helped to sustain a slander campaign in the Lithuanian mass media where the Gataev couple were presented as abusers of children right after their arrest (see, for example, and during the pre-trial investigation, thus violating their presumption of innocence. Most recently, news portal published a story right after the second court hearing on 24 February 2009 (please see in which judge Almantas Lisauskas was quoted as saying that none of the victims - adult children of the orphanage - had arrived at the court and that it is understandable that after 10 years of life with their foster parents the adult children are still afraid. However, as mentioned above, two of the victims were present at the hearing and one of them had expressed his wish to testify in favour of his foster parents.

Without clear reason, upon request of the prosecutor judge A. Lisauskas decided to hear the case behind the closed door.

In our opinion, the above-mentioned instances indicate manipulation of facts and an ambiguous application of law and court procedures by Lithuanian authorities in order to achieve a certain outcome of the trial, that is, sentencing of Mr and Mrs Gataev and deporting them from Lithuania (it should be noted that their return to Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation would put their lives in danger as the Gataev family have previously been harassed by the Kadyrov government there). These measures have resulted in the violation of Mr and Mrs Gataevs’ right to a fair trial, especially their right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in public hearing by independent and impartial tribunal and to examine or have examined witnesses against them and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on their behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against them.

We therefore urge you to pay attention to the human rights violations caused by Lithuanian authorities, namely the Prosecutor’s Office and the State Security Department, and request an answer from the Lithuanian State regarding these violations.

Yours sincerely,

Henrikas Mickevičius
Executive Director

Teemu Matinpuro, the Executive Director of the Finnish Peace Committee
Anu Harju, Director, Finnish NGO Zhima Ditt/ Pieni Puu ry
Oksana Chelysheva, Russian - Chechen Friendship Society
Gintautas Bukauskas, friend and supporter of the Gataev family
Mantas Kvedaravicius, friend and supporter of the Gataev family
Ieva Raubisko, friend and supporter of the Gataev family
Bekhan Gariev, friend and supporter of the Gataev family