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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Free Cuba Foundation in solidarity with Russian human rights defender Oyub Titiev calls for his freedom

Free Oyub Titiev

Human rights defender Oyub Titiev wrongfully jailed

We learned today that Oyub Titiev, the head of the Russian human rights group Memorial in Grozny (Chechnya), was detained on fabricated charges.  Human Rights Watch provided the following background information on this wrongfully detained human rights activist.

This morning, Chechen authorities arrested activist Oyub Titiev, who works as the Chechnya office director at a leading Russian rights group, Memorial Human Rights Center.

Titiev, born 1957, took over for Memorial in Chechnya after the kidnapping and murder of his colleague, Natalia Estemirova in 2009. In recent years, he received many threats aimed at making him quit human rights work. Now, his life and safety are in jeopardy. Seven hours after his arrest, Chechnya’s interior ministry confirmed they took him into custody, allegedly on suspicion of a drug-related crime.

At about 10:30 a.m. a witness saw five to six police officials stop and search Titiev’s car by the Khumyk river bridge, not far from the town of Kurchaloi. The officials then took Titiev to the Kurchaloi district police department. When a lawyer from Memorial arrived at the police department that afternoon, an officer refused to let him in, claiming Titiev wasn’t on the premises. Another police officer, however, admitted off the record that they had Titiev in custody. At about 5 p.m., Chechnya’s deputy interior minister informed Russia’s federal ombudsperson, in response to her inquiry, that Kurchaoi police had detained Titiev. Around that time, Titiev’s lawyer was admitted to the station, and local police told him his client was being charged with unlawful drug possession.

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. In summer 2014, a court in Chechnya sentenced local activist Ruslan Kutaev to four years in jail on fabricated, politically motivated drug charges after he criticized and disobeyed an order by Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. In fall 2016, another Chechen court sentenced journalist Zhalaudi Geriev to three years in prison on similarly fraudulent drug charges. Geriev worked for the Caucasian Knot, a Russian media portal which was critical of Chechnya’s leadership and had covered Kutaev’s case. Both men were tortured in police custody. Kutaev was released on parole at the end of 2017. Geriev remains behind bars.
The Free Cuba Foundation owes a debt to Russian human rights groups who back on September 22, 1997 demonstrated their solidarity with Cuban political prisoners. Xavier Utset, president of the Free Cuba Foundation, traveled to Russia and successfully obtained support from Russian organizations and political leaders for Cuban prisoners of conscience.

Members of Russian civil society addressed letters to the Cuban Minister of the Interior requesting that "any charges brought in connection with attempts to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression and travel be dropped, and that they be released immediately." This letter is signed by Anatoly Shabad, Deputy of the 5th State Duma Russian Federation. A. Smirnov, Director, of the Moscow Research Center for Human Rights requested that "proper medical attention be given." I.L. Ponomarev, Co-chairman of the movement "Democratic Russia" stated that "access to a lawyer of their choice be granted. "The support of Memorial and the Radical party (principally), has been crucial for the massive expansion in Russia of interest for Cuban political prisoners."

The Memorial Human Rights Foundation has a long track record of defending human rights in an increasingly dangerous environment.  The authorities in Chechnya have a pattern of politically motivated prosecutions, using criminal charges as a cover to lock up human rights defenders. Based on the above facts, we demand that Oyub Titiev be immediately freed.

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