Rights Group Memorial Deems Jailed Russian Activist A Political Prisoner

The Moscow-based human rights group Memorial says it has determined that Mikhail Savostin, an activist charged with illegal drug possession, is a political prisoner.

Memorial said on July 23 that the authorities' case against Savostin contains "elements of intentional falsification."

Savostin, who is a senior member of Assembly of the Peoples of the Caucasus and the independent trade union Solidarnost (Solidarity), was arrested in April after police stopped his car in his native city of Mineralnyye Vody in the North Caucasus.

Police said they found two packets of marijuana in his possession. Savostin denies it and contends that the drugs were planted by police to frame him.

In late June, Savostin started a hunger strike protesting his arrest.

A similar case in another North Caucasus region, Chechnya, has also been highlighted by human rights groups since January.

The head of Memorial’s branch in Chechnya, Oyub Titiyev, was arrested after police stopped his car in early January and claimed they found a pack of marijuana in the automobile. Titiyev is now currently on trial on a charge of illegally possessing the drug.

Titiyev and colleagues at Memorial have called the accusation absurd and accused the police of planting the drugs.

If convicted, Savostin and Titiyev could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.