Russia: Chechen human rights defender must be released as unfair trial looms

6 July 2018, 15:30 UTC

The Russian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release prominent human rights defender Oyub Titiev, Amnesty International said ahead of the start of his trial in Chechnya over trumped-up charges.

Titiev, the head of the human rights organization Memorial in the Chechen capital Grozny, faces up to 10 years in jail on fabricated drugs charges. His trial begins on 9 July in Shali town court.

“The criminal case against Oyub Titiev is an outrage. The charges against him are  politically motivated. This is a reprisal against a courageous man for his human rights work in a region plagued by most egregious violations, from enforced disappearances to torture in secret prisons,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

“There is little hope that Oyub’s right to a fair trial will be respected. In Chechnya, independence of the judiciary is non-existent and judges are harassed and intimidated by men with guns who follow no law but take orders from one man – Kremlin-backed Head of the Republic Ramzan Kadyrov.”

Oyub Titiev’s defence team has requested that he be tried in another region of Russia to avoid executive pressure on the judges. On 5 July, the Supreme Court of Chechnya refused to grant the request. His defence team appealed this decision.

“The transfer of the case outside of Chechnya could be the last chance to ensure that Titiev’s conviction is not decided from the onset,” said Marie Struthers.

Oyub Titiev was stopped in his car by police in Grozny on 9 January 2018 and held incommunicado for several hours.

The Chechen authorities later stated that drugs had been “discovered” in his car. Titiev denied the allegations and insisted the drugs had been planted by police.

Memorial is a victim of constant reprisals

Over the years, Memorial and its staff in Chechnya have been subjected to harassment, intimidation and physical violence. In 2009, Memorial member Natalia Estemirova was abducted near her home and killed. No one has been brought to justice for her killing.

Oyub Titiev has been directly targeted by Ramzan Kadyrov himself. In 2010, the Head of the Republic said on Chechen television that “a man and a woman from Memorial in Gudermes”, in clear reference to Oyub Titiev and a colleague, were “enemies of the people, the law and the state”.

Kadyrov called Oyub Titiev a “drug addict.” This violates Titiev’s right to presumption of innocence and could put pressure on the court.

Memorial has been the target of multiple attacks in Chechnya and neighbouring regions of Russia’s North Caucasus. Shortly after Titiev’s detention, the Memorial office in Nazran, Ingushetia, was burned down. The perpetrators have not been yet identified. On 28 March, Sirazhutdin Datsiev, the head of the Memorial’s office in Dagestan, was beaten up by an unknown man.

Judiciary harassed and intimidated

Judges and jury members in Chechnya are openly admonished by Ramzan Kadyrov.  In May 2016, unsatisfied with judges’ lenience towards defendants, Kadyrov called for the resignation of several judges including the President of the Supreme Court, Magomed Karatayev.

Three judges and Karatayev stepped down after publicly expressing apologies to Kadyrov and the Chechen people.

Meanwhile, the pressure on other top members of the judiciary continued. In October 2016, the Speaker of the Chechen Parliament, Magomed Daudov, visited the interim Supreme Court President Takhir Murdalov and threatened him with violence.

Federal authorities turn a blind eye to human rights violations in Chechnya

The Russian federal authorities have consistently neglected their obligations to protect human rights in Chechnya, ignoring systematic and grave violations.

Even last year’s reports of a horrifying “gay purge” in the region met with a limited response at the federal level, with the authorities refusing to launch an official investigation and ignoring credible evidence provided by journalists and human rights defenders about the purge.