Day: March 10, 2009

Gatayev case

Jeremy Putley has forwarded the draft text of a letter he has sent to the Lithuanian Ambassador in the United Kingdom:

His Excellency the Ambassador
Lithuanian Embassy in London
84 Gloucester Place

Your Excellency

Persecution of Chechen émigrés: Malik and Khadijat Gatayev

I write in order to draw to your attention a matter which I regard as very serious, and of high importance, concerning the treatment of Mr and Mrs Gatayev, who are at present in the custody of the State Security Department in Lithuania.

In case you are not aware of the background to this case, Mr and Mrs Gatayev are Chechens, legally resident in your country, who are internationally very well-known and highly respected as heroic figures, especially Khadijat Gatayeva, for their work in running orphanages in Kaunas and in Grozny. They are the central characters in the best-selling book by Asne Seierstad, The Angel of Grozny. In addition, films have been made about their work, notably the Finnish Melancholian 3 huonetta in 2005.

It has become clear in recent months that, on the initiative of the present ruler of Chechnya, the so-called president Ramzan Kadyrov, and with the active support of the Russian FSB, a campaign of murder and intimidation has been carried out in Europe against members of the Chechen diaspora. I would refer you to the enclosed reports in which it is confirmed or credibly alleged that agents of the government of the Chechen Republic have been active in Norway, Austria, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and possibly Germany.

It is, therefore, unlikely to be a coincidence that Mr and Mrs Gatayev have found themselves being victimised by what appears to be wholly unjustified persecution by your country’s State Security Department who, apparently, are carrying out these actions at the request of the security services of the Russian Federation, and on their behalf. I respectfully submit for your consideration that the actions of the Lithuanian SSD are likely to bring your country’s international standing into disrepute.

It appears that the arrest and the ongoing trial of Mr and Mrs Gatayev in Kaunas exhibit violations of human dignity and of the 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 Khadijat Gatayev were arrested in Kaunas on 15 October 2008. Until their arrest, the couple ran two large orphanages for children from Chechnya, one in Grozny, capital of the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation, and one in Kaunas. Mrs Gatayeva first established an orphanage in a refugee camp in Ingushetia, with help from foreign sponsors, and later moved back to Grozny. Her husband, Malik Gatayev, has been residing in Lithuania for the past decade and until his arrest was running another orphanage there. Mrs Gatayeva kept alternating from Chechnya to Lithuania.

The arrest of Mr and Mrs Gatayev was carried out by the Lithuanian State Security Department (SSD). Considering the nature of the charge against the Gatayevs, which I understand is that they extorted money from their adult children (out of 17 children of the orphanage, eight are young adults), this was a criminal matter requiring the involvement of the Criminal Police. The extortion charge brought against the Gatayevs does not fall under the authority of SSD, whose main tasks are intelligence, counterintelligence, protection of state secrets, anti-terrorist activities and protection of the national economy and strategic objects.

The SSD has been heavily involved in the Gatayev case ever since the arrest of Mr and Mrs Gatayev 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 her job if her husband continued working on the case.

The SSD initially blocked any access to the Gatayev orphanage and kept it under strict surveillance. There is evidence that the adult children of the orphanage were subjected to psychological pressure by the SSD officials, and forced to report and cooperate with its agents, which in the end resulted in some of them testifying against their foster parents.

In addition, there is evidence that the Prosecutor in charge of the case, Ms Nomeda Oškutyte, and the SSD, are currently putting pressure on the adult children of the orphanage who are considered to be victims in the case, but who want to provide positive testimonies in defence of their foster parents. 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 closed hearing and did not ask the opinion of the alleged victims present at the hearing, Denis Volkovskoi and Magomedsalakh Gabayev. 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. I enclose a photograph of the young man taken in hospital.

Prosecutor Nomeda Oškutyte and two employees of the SSD visited the orphanage on 13 January 2009, the day of the first court hearing in the Gatayev case. The prosecutor and SSD agents asked the young adults how they had found out about the hearing and, in an attempt at 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 Gatayev family who showed interest in their arrest and tried to help them and the children of the orphanage. Thus some of the Gatayevs’ 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 and 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 Gatayev case and that he had obtained a lot of testimony letters from the acquaintances of Malik and Khadijat Gatayev 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 Gatayev case. Another raid by the Prosecutor Oškutyte and SSD was carried out at the company of Mr and Mrs Bukausksas on 2 March 2009 and Mr Bukauskas was arrested.

The SSD and the Kaunas Regional Prosecutor’s Office also appear to have helped to sustain a slander campaign in the Lithuanian media where the Gatayev couple were presented as abusers of children right after their arrest, and during the pre-trial investigation, thus violating their presumption of innocence. More recently, news portal published a story after the second court hearing on 24 February 2009 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 suggested 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.

At the request of the prosecutor, the judge A. Lisauskas decided to hold the hearing behind closed doors; the concern is that secrecy is required so that a false verdict can be brought by the court without the possibility of public scrutiny.

All of these worrying instances of the manipulation of facts, and the dubious application of law and court procedures, by Lithuanian authorities, suggest a clear intention to achieve a pre-determined outcome of the trial: namely, a finding of guilt against Mr and Mrs Gatayev, and their deportation from Lithuania.
I would like to draw to your attention that their return to the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation would put their lives in the gravest danger. The Gatayev family have previously been harassed by the Kadyrov government in Chechnya.

The measures taken by the authorities in your country, as described above, have resulted in the violation of Mr and Mrs Gatayev’s right to a fair trial – especially their right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law, in a public hearing by an 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.

I ask that, in consideration of the serious nature of the case, you will now refer my concerns to your Government. In addition I draw to your attention that Mrs Khadijat Gatayeva has a serious medical condition, requiring treatment, and I request that your Government will take immediate note of the importance of ensuring that her health is taken care of. I repeat that the actions being taken by authorities within the Russian Federation amounting to unlawful intimidation and persecution of Chechens living abroad, including murder by assassination teams within the countries of Europe, are a matter which should be of grave concern to your Government.

I respectfully suggest that it should be of serious concern to your Government, also, that two individuals whose noble concern for orphaned children merits their being regarded nationally and internationally as humanitarian benefactors of heroic stature, are instead being persecuted instead of being honoured, and wrongfully imprisoned by the authorities of your country.