Chechnya accused of making up drugs charges against human rights activist

Police arrest Oyub Titiev, claiming marijuana was found in his car, but activists say he is victim of trumped-up charges

A 60-year-old human rights activist in Chechnya faces up to 10 years in prison on drug possession charges that critics have said were trumped up by officials as revenge for his reports on rights abuses.

Oyub Titiev, the office director at the Memorial Human Rights Centre in the southern Russian republic, was arrested on Tuesday morning by police who said they found more than six ounces of marijuana wrapped in a plastic bag in his car.

Chechen officials would only confirm they had taken Titiev into custody seven hours after he was brought to a police station in Kurchaloi, a town 30 miles from Grozny, the Chechen capital.

Russian human rights activists said the charges are an attempt to stamp out criticism of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-installed leader of Chechnya. Kadyrov, a former rebel fighter who went over to the Kremlin in 2000, denies numerous allegations of personal involvement in torture, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Titiev, who took over at Memorial’s Chechen office after the murder in 2009 of his colleague, Natalia Estemirova, has received numerous death threats in recent years.

His arrest came less than two weeks after Magomed Daudov, the speaker of the Chechen parliament, called human rights activists “enemies of the people” and suggested they should be executed.

Titiev’s colleagues ridiculed the allegations against him, describing him as a deeply religious teetotaller with a principled opposition to drug use.

“Framing people for drug crimes has become an increasingly frequent tactic used by Chechnya’s authorities to punish and discredit their critics in the eyes of conservative Chechen society,” wrote Tanya Lokshina, a Moscow-based senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “There’s no doubt that Titiev’s arrest is an attempt to finally push Memorial out of Chechnya.”

In 2014, Ruslan Kutaev, a Chechen cultural figure, was jailed for four years on heroin possession charges after criticising Kadyrov in public. In 2016, Zhalaudi Geriev, a journalist with the Caucasian Knot, an independent news website critical of the Chechen strongman leader, was sentenced to three years on drug charges. Human rights groups said both men were tortured in police custody.


Marc Bennetts in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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