Judge Extends Detention Of Chechen Rights Activist Titiyev

A judge in Russia's Chechnya region has extended until July 9 the pretrial detention of activist Oyub Titiyev, according to Memorial, the Russian human rights group that Titiyev heads in Chechnya.

Memorial on May 31 called the action of the Grozny court "unjustified" and said Titiyev's attorneys expressed "bewilderment" at the decision.

The 60-year-old Titiyev heads the Chechen office of Memorial. He has been in pretrial detention in Chechnya since his arrest there on January 9 on drug charges that he and his associates say are fabricated.

Titiyev has insisted that drugs found in the car he was driving were planted as evidence against him.

He faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence if convicted.

On May 18, the world governing body of soccer, FIFA, issued a statement saying it was "deeply concerned" about Titiyev's case and urged that he be "granted a fair trial in accordance with international standards."

Russia is set to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup soccer championship from June 14 until July 15. The FIFA statement came in response to a request by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and 13 other international rights groups.

The Chechen capital, Grozny, has been selected as the training base of the Egyptian national team.

HRW has called the charges "bogus" and said the case "seems to be part of an effort by Chechen authorities to shut Memorial out of the region."

HRW on May 3 called on FIFA to use its "leverage" with the Kremlin ahead of the June 14 start of the World Cup to secure Titiyev's unconditional release.

"It is FIFA's view that, as a matter of principle, human rights defenders should be able to perform their work freely and without fear of reprisals," the May 18 FIFA statement said. "FIFA's leadership continues to be personally invested in engagements on the situation of Mr. Titiyev and we hope that a solution can be found in the near future."

Activists have been deeply concerned about human rights abuses in Chechnya under the administration of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov for many years. In January, Kadyrov called Titiyev a "drug addict" and said human rights defenders in general were "people without kinship, ethnicity, or religion."

Titiyev's predecessor as the head of Memorial's Grozny office, Natalya Estimirova, was abducted and killed in 2009, a case that remains unsolved.

Mikhail Fedotov, head of President Vladimir Putin's advisory council on human rights and civil society, in January called on the Interior Ministry to investigate the possibility that drugs were planted in Titiyev's car. However, the Chechen court on May 24 rejected Titiyev's request to open a criminal case against police, according to Interfax.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the U.S. State Department have also expressed concerns about Titiyev's arrest.