Winner of 2018 Václav Havel Human Rights Prize Oyub Titiev sentenced to four years in a Penal Colony Settlement for controversial politicized conviction in Chechnya

Winner of 2018 Václav Havel Human Rights Prize Oyub Titiev sentenced to four years in a Penal Colony Settlement for controversial politicized conviction in Chechnya

On 18 March 2019 Chechnya’s Shalinsky District Court sentenced a prominent human rights defender and Head of Grozny branch of Memorial Human Rights Centre, Oyub Titiev, to four years of imprisonment in a penal colony.

In January 2018 Titiev was arrested by the Chechen police on charges of illegal possession of a reportedly large amount of marijuana, and since then, for almost 15 months, he had been held in pre-trial detention. 

Titiev denied the allegations and insisted the drugs had been planted by police. Despite the obvious shortcomings in this case identified by the defense and the Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation, the Courts have repeatedly denied Titiev’s defences’ requests for thorough investigations into prosecution’s evidences. As for today it is still unknown if Titiev’s defense team appeals the verdict, his lawyers are working on the next steps now.

Oyub Titiev took over the running of Memorial in Chechnya after his colleague Natalya Estemirova, a persistent critic of Kadyrov’s rule, was murdered in 2009. He is known as a courageous human rights defender who provided legal assistance and prepared reports on human rights abuses, disappearances, extrajudicial executions and abductions committed by the Chechen authorities. 

In 2018 while being in detention Oyub Titiev received the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for “outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights in Chechnya”. His investigations have regularly irritated the authorities. 

Russian and international human rights defenders connect Titiev’s arrest to the so-called “Case of 27”*and to threats issued by the head of the Chechen parliament and right hand of Ramzan Kadyrov, Magomed Daudov. In December 2017 Daudov linked US sanctions and the blocking of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s Instagram account to the work of human rights defenders and openly called for their persecution. Titiev’s colleagues claim his case was fabricated in order to punish him for his work and to stop Memorial from working in the region.

Events that followed Mr. Titiev’s arrest further support the assumption of a coordinated effort to drive Memorial out of the region. Following Titiev’s arrest, the police pressured the owner of the building, where the Chechen branch of Memorial sits, to immediately terminate the tenant’s contract. When the owner refused, the police stormed the office on January 19 and allegedly confiscated further evidence of marihuana possession.

Furthermore, Mr. Titiev’s lawyer Petr Zaikin has been closely followed and all the staff of the branch of Memorial has faced administrative obstacles, which has prevented them from effective defense of their rights in the case. 

During the night from January 16 to 17.2018, several masked men broke into the office of the branch of Memorial in Ingushetia and set it on fire. On top of that, on January 22, a company car of the branch of Memorial in Dagestan was set on fire. The staff soon received threat messages calling them to end its activities in the region. Later on 28 March 2018, the head of the Dagestani branch of the HRO Memorial Sirazhutdin Datsiyev was severely beaten in Makhachkala. Unknown attacked him from behind near his house. The human rights activist was hospitalized to the neurosurgical department. Colleagues of Sirazhutdin Datsiev see the relationship between this attack and the arrest of Oyub Titiev. Experts talk about the purposeful extrusion of human rights defenders from the North Caucasus.

The scenario of liquidating one of the last human rights organizations operating inside the North Caucasus would mean a significant blow to human rights in the region, which is already notoriously infamous for gross human rights violations. Simultaneously, the international public would lose one of the last sources of information regarding the situation of human rights in the regions.

“How much longer can human rights activists be locked up and killed? When will the authorities finally take notice of this? I would like to ask my colleagues from the countries of Europe for something: please find out if universal jurisdiction or other sanctions can be applied to those involved in this case, those who have organized and committed this crime. This country’s judiciary is refusing to investigate this crime, all my appeals to the Investigative Committee have been turned down,” said Oyub Titiev in his closing statement at Shalinsky City Court.

“Oyub’s sentence is unlawful and unjust. The milder verdict, however, showed that the public campaign in support of Oyub has worked,” stated Oleg Orlov, Head of Memorial’s North Caucasus program, in his interview after the sentence was pronounced.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic Tomáš Petříček expressed his concern with Oyub Titiev’s sentence and called on Russian Federation to release him immediately:

After Titiev’s arrest last year, many international human rights organisations around the world along with the OSCE and European Commission demanded his release.

People in Need joins international campaign in support of Oyub Titiev and follows the development of Oyub Titiev’s case. 

*The case of 27 Chechen residents who had been allegedly exposed to extrajudicial executions by the local security service officials. In summer 20017 Oyub Titiev as a head of Memorial office was closely involved in the investigation by travelling to scenes of incidents, interviewing the victims’ relatives, etc. For more information see Memorial’s investigation dossier https://memohrc.org/ru/special-projects/chechnya-rasstrelnyy-spisok 
Author: ČvT