Angel of Grozny is Free

Khadizhat Gatayeva & Malik GatayevMalik Gatayev and Khadizhat Gatayeva, who run an orphanage for Chechen refugee children in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas, were released on 9 September 2009 awaiting final ruling in the criminal case against them. Lithuania’s Court of Appeals revoked an earlier ruling of the Kaunas Regional Court to prolong the couple’s detention for another three months.

The appeals court ruled that the Gatayevs had served their sentence and should therefore have been released on 14 August 2009. The court noted that the Kaunas Regional Court had failed to hear the arguments presented by the lawyers representing the Gatayevs. Prolonging their detention was thus illegal, the court ruled. The Court of Appeals will give its final verdict on 25 September 2009.

This is the first victory in a long case that raised serious concerns about the workings of Lithuania’s justice system. However, the couple’s troubles are far from over: their Lithuanian visas have been revoked, and they may face deportation back to Chechnya. Their children have been scattered, and it is unclear whether they will manage to rebuild the orphanage in Kaunas.

The Gatayevs were arrested on 14 October 2008 by Lithuanian security police. Serious questions about the Gatayev case arose soon after their arrest, and the case attracted the attention of several international human rights defenders. The Gatayevs were charged with extortion, allegedly of their older children, but finally found guilty of “domestic despotism.”

Before their arrest, the Gatayevs ran two orphanages, one in Kaunas and another in the Chechen capital, Grozny. Khadizhat Gatayeva appeared in the documentary film “Three Rooms of Melancholia” by the Finnish film maker Pirjo Honkasalo, and she was the central figure in the book “The Angel of Grozny” by the Norwegian journalist, Åsne Seierstad.

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