I am human rights defender and the Head of Memorial’s office in Grozny. On 9 January 2018, I was arbitrarily arrested by the police on false drug possession charge.
Case of Oyub Titiev and persecution of Memorial
Oyub Titiev (b.24/08/1957) is a Chechen human rights defender and the Head of Memorial’s office in Grozny. On 9 January 2018, he was arbitrarily arrested by police on false accusations of drugs possession. Oyub Titiev was brought to the police station and held incommunicado for several hours. The HRD denied all the accusations. On 11 January, a court in Shali, Chechnya, ordered that Titiev must be held on remand for two months. The detention was subsequently extended in March for further two months and for one more month in April. It is expected that Oyub Titiev’s case might go to court already in May.
Shortly after Oyub Titiev’s arrest, his family was subjected to pressure and had to leave Chechnya. Oyub Titiev was also pressured into false confession and remains at risk of torture. Oyub Titiev’s colleagues reported that further “evidence” is being fabricated against him in the course of investigation.
Amnesty International believes that the case against Oyub Titiev has been fabricated, and he has been thrown behind bars to silence him and obstruct his human rights work. Oyub Titiev is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for his peaceful human rights work, all charges against him must be dropped and he must be released immediately and unconditionally.
In the meantime, the pressure on Memorial and on Oyub Titiev’s colleagues has risen. Oyub Titiev’s lawyer, Petr Zaikin, reported that he was under surveillance in Chechnya. On the night of 17 January, unidentified masked men set Memorial office in the neighbouring Republic of Ingushetia on fire. On 19 January, police conducted a search in Memorial’s office in Grozny. It appears that some “evidence” found during the search (an improvised ash tray and a fresh roll-up with unknown substance later tested as marijuana) could have been planted to incriminate Oyub Titiev as no one of the Memorial staff members smokes. On 22 January, Memorial’s car used by Petr Zaikin in Chechnya was burnt down in Dagestan. Around the same time, staff members of Dagestan Memorial received death threats on their mobiles. On 28 March, unidentified assailants attacked and brutally beat the Head of Dagestan Memorial Sirazhutdin Datsiev. Memorial believes that these incidents are connected with persecution of Oyub Titiev in Chechnya.
Intimidation and harassment of Memorial must stop and its staff must be able to carry out their legitimate human rights work without any interference.
Oyub Titiev has been working in the Grozny office of Memorial for many years and has been threatened on numerous occasions in connection with his human rights work. He became Head of the office shortly after the murder of human rights defender and Memorial staff member Natalia Estemirova in 2009. Following her killing, many of Memorial’s staff members had to leave the country fearing for their lives, and Memorial had to suspend its work in Chechnya for five months. For the last few months before his arrest, Oyub Titiev was working on the case of 27 Chechens allegedly forcibly disappeared, and shot dead by the police on the night of 26 January 2017. Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta wrote extensively on this issue. Oyub Titiev’s colleagues believe that his detention is an attempt by the authorities to stop him from doing his legitimate human rights work.
Oyub Titiev is a practicing Muslim strictly observing all the rules. He does not drink or smoke, let alone take drugs. He is a former PE school teacher and a boxing coach. He would regularly go to the gym and do jogging.
Shortly before Oyub Titiev’s arrest, on 25 December 2017, Speaker of the Chechen Parliament Magomed Daudov, also known under alias of “Lord” issued an official statement published on the website of the Chechen news agency Grozny Inform. In his statement, referring to the recent blocking by Instagram and Facebook accounts belonging to the Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, Daudov said that in his opinion “pseudo-human rights defenders” were behind the blocking. According to Daudov, these people working in “various “committees” [reference to Nizhnii Novgorod Committee Against Torture] and “centres” [reference to Memorial Human Rights Centre] and “journalists” of the most deceitful media [reference to Novaya Gazeta] who get “prestigious awards” and “thirty pieces of silver” in Washington itself and other Western countries…<…> But for [death penalty] moratorium in Russia, we should have dealt with the enemies of the people, “Salam Aleikum” and that’s it”. Daudov also called for “isolation” of HRDs.
In the context of Chechnya such statements are often perceived as orders. Oyub Titiev was arrested just two weeks after this statement, on the first working day of 2018.
On 17 January 2018, the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov called human rights defenders people “without Motherland, nation or religion” and stated that they have no place in Chechnya.
Persecution of Oyub Titiev is not an isolated case of an individual vendetta but part of a campaign to push human rights defenders out of Chechnya and stop all reporting on human rights violations. Saving Oyub Titiev is saving Memorial.