The trial of human rights activist Oyub Titiyev, who heads the Chechen branch of Russian rights group Memorial, kicked off on 18 July in Chechnya’s Shali District Court. Titiyev, who has been in custody since January, is charged with possession of large quantities of cannabis; Titiyev and his defence team reject the accusation, claiming the drugs were planted on him and that the case is politically motivated.
Since his arrest in January, Titiyev’s detention has been repeatedly prolonged by the court in the Chechen capital, Grozny. The case was finally passed over to be heard in the Shali District Court, 20 kilometres south-east of Grozny, on 5 July.
On 9 July, the court again extended Titiyev’s detention, until 22 December. His defence has already appealed the decision. Later that day, Titiyev appealed his arrest and detention to the European Human Rights Court. According to lawyers from Memorial, the Russian authorities violated articles 5 and 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights — on the right to liberty and personal security and the prohibition of criminal prosecution for political purposes.
The first hearing in the trial was held in the presence of several of Titiyev’s relatives and colleagues, as well as journalists. The judge held the session despite the Supreme Court not yet considering an appeal to have the trial transferred to another region. This request was previously rejected but the defence is appealing it.
Titiyev’s lawyer, Pyotr Zaikin, argued that the process should be moved from Chechnya in order to avoid the influence of Chechnya’s executive power, including that of the head of the republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. This was protested by the prosecutor, who was supported by the judge, saying that if the jurisdiction is changed, the whole procedure will be started anew.
During the 18 July hearing, the prosecution named 70 witnesses to be brought in the case, almost all employees of the Kurchaloy Police Department, where Titiyev was brought twice.
Titiyev’s lawyer, Zaikin, expressed frustration at the witnesses’ apparent lack of memory. One police officer from the Kurchaloy District police department requested a Chechen interpreter, despite all law enforcement officers being required to speak Russian.
Zaikin said that if all 70 prosecution witnesses went through questioning in the same way, it would not be a judicial investigation but a ‘farce’.
The court will reconvene on 26 July.
Several international organisations have condemned Titiyev’s prosecution. In an open letter dated 1 July to Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chayka, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović called for Titiyev’s release.
The Chechen authorities responded by saying that no one has the right to interfere in Russia’s judicial system. The Commissioner for Human Rights in Chechnya, Nurdin Nukhazhiyev, criticised Mijatović request, insisting she was not acquainted with the Russian legal system.
Rachel Denber, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch told OC Media the charges against Titiyev were ‘groundless, politically motivated, and aim at drive Memorial out of Chechnya’. ‘Many circumstances surrounding the case point to this’ she said, including ‘threats and verbal venom against human rights defenders by high-level local officials shortly before Titiyev’s arrest, arson attacks against Memorial in the weeks following his arrest, and local authorities’ long record of persecuting government critics, including through bogus drug charges.’
‘No justice in Chechnya’
Despite only close relatives and journalists attending the trial, society has closely followed Tityev’s trial. A number of local people told OC Media they are afraid to openly declare their position.
One former human rights defender who asked not to be named told OC Media the authorities were putting ‘pressure on those who think differently’. He said that Titiyev’s trial, as well as the imprisonment of Ruslan Kutayev a well-known public figure and president of the Assembly of the Peoples of the Caucasus, and Caucasian Knot journalist Zhalavdi Geriyev were a warning ‘for those who still think that there is justice in Chechnya’.
[Read on OC Media: No justice for Chechen Memorial head — again]