Jail looms for Chechen rights chief
A court in the unstable Russian republic of Chechnya is due to deliver a verdict in the trial of a human rights activist today (Monday) that has been seen as heralding a fresh crackdown on NGOs in the region.
Oyub Titiev, 61, who heads the rights group Memorial, has been accused of cannabis possession. His legal team say the authorities planted the drug in his car.
Before his arrest, Titiev was gathering evidence about enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and secret detention by the security forces in Chechnya.
His legal team said the charges were to punish him for his work on rights abuses. Titiev faces a four-year jail term in a trial that has been dismissed as biased.
In court, the judge refused all defence motions to exclude the prosecution’s evidence, despite indications it was fabricated and unreliable, the US-based Human Rights Watch said.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov last year said the government would no longer tolerate rights campaigners.
Kadyrov called Titiev a drug addict and traitor for working for an “enemy” organisation.
“I officially declare to human rights activists: after the end of the trial, Chechnya will be forbidden territory for them, like it is for terrorists and extremists,” Kadyrov said in August 2018.
Kadyrov was hit with western sanctions after news leaked of the secret arrest and torture of numerous gay men in Chechnya in 2017. Three people allegedly died during torture and Kadyrov appeared to blame rights activists for the sanctions.
“Since I can’t go to Europe and the west, I say, their employees, the ones who call themselves human rights activists, will not have the right to travel in my territory,” the former militia leader said.
Although it is assumed Titiev will be found guilty, rights groups called for his immediate release.
“That this groundless case has gone so far is a colossal injustice to Titiev and an embarrassment to Russia’s criminal justice system,” said Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch. “Oyub Titiev should never have had to spend a minute in custody. But even at this late stage, the authorities should immediately free him and correct the injustice.”
Chechnya has long been one of the most dangerous Russian regions for activists and the media.
Natalya Estemirova, a former chief of Memorial’s Chechen office, was abducted in the capital Grozny and shot dead in 2009. In 2016, masked attackers beat eight journalists and rights campaigners in Chechnya and set their minibus on fire. Days later, Igor Kalyapin, the Committee to Prevent Torture head, was attacked in Grozny.
During Titiev’s trial, an office and a vehicle have been destroyed in arson attacks.
Chechyna is dangerous for opponents of the authorities. Picture credit: Wikimedia