Chechen human rights defender in ‘dubious’ narcotics arrest

Rights groups say framing people for drug crimes a common tactic of Chechen powers

Oyub Titiev: has frequently faced death threats for his work to uncover widespread official rights abuses in Chechnya. Photograph: Human Rights Watch/Memorial Human Rights Center

Oyub Titiev: has frequently faced death threats for his work to uncover widespread official rights abuses in Chechnya. Photograph: Human Rights Watch/Memorial Human Rights Center

 

Law enforcers in Chechnya were once again facing criticism for rights violations on Wednesday after a prominent human rights defender in the southern Russian republic was arrested on dubious narcotics charges.

Oyub Titiev, the office director of the Memorial Human Rights Center in Chechnya, was detained by traffic police on his way to work in Grozny, the Chechen capital, early on Tuesday and charged with possession of illegal drugs.

As often happens when people are arrested in Chechnya, law enforcers refused to reveal Mr Titiev’s whereabouts until late in the day, when he was finally granted access to a lawyer at a district police station some 48km from Grozny.

In a statement the Chechen ministry of the interior said about 180g of “a plant substance smelling of marijuana” was found in the car Mr Titiev was driving when he was taken into custody. If found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in jail.

Mr Titiev, who took over leadership of the rights centre’s s office in Grozny in 2009 after his colleague Nataliya Estemirova was kidnapped and murdered, has frequently faced death threats for his work to uncover widespread official rights abuses in Chechnya.

Common tactic

Rights groups heaped scorn on the narcotics charges, saying Mr Titiev was religious and opposed to the use of alcohol and drugs.

Framing people for drug crimes has become an increasingly frequent tactic used by the Chechen authorities to punish and discredit their critics in the eyes of conservative Chechen society, Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“There’s no doubt that Titiev’s arrest is an attempt to finally push Memorial – which has been extensively reporting on collective punishment practices, enforced disappearances, torture, punitive house burnings and other abuses by local authorities – out of Chechnya.”

Nils Muiznieks, the commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, urged the Russian authorities to immediately ensure the release of Mr Titiev on Wednesday, saying the charges levied against the human rights defender were “dubious” and lacked credibility.

Mr Titiev had made an “invaluable contribution over many years to the defence of human rights, including by advocating accountability for human rights abuses by Chechen officials”, Mr Muiznieks wrote on his Facebook page.

Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Kremlin’s Council for Human Rights, asked Russia’s investigative committee to verify the charges against Mr Titiev, suggesting that illegal drugs could have been planted to incriminate him.