Russian Activist's Trial Winds Down, Lawyers Say Charges Are Bogus

Mar 11, 2019
Originally published on March 11, 2019 8:12 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's get a glimpse of life for a human rights activist in a place where the head of government hates what you are doing and has the power to stop you. An activist in the Russian province of Chechnya could go to prison for a decade, and his lawyers say he was only charged to stop his work. Here's NPR's Lucian Kim.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Oyub Titiyev is the head of the Russian human rights group Memorial in the southern Russian region of Chechnya. He angered local authorities with his research on secret prisons where the Chechen government allegedly holds anybody it doesn't like, including gay men. In January 2018, Chechen police stopped Titiyev on his way to work and charged him with drug possession. Now his trial, which began last summer, is drawing to an end.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ILYA NOVIKOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Ilya Novikov, a member of the defense team, told reporters in Moscow he assures client will be found guilty. "There's no hope for a fair trial anywhere in Chechnya," he said, "because its leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has publicly called Titiyev a drug addict." Chechnya fought two bloody wars against the central government in Moscow. Now it's firmly under the control of Kadyrov who has reaped billions of dollars from the Kremlin in return for his loyalty. Human rights activists do not fit into that picture.

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PRESIDENT RAMZAN KADYROV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Speaking to local law enforcement in August, Kadyrov railed against human rights activists and said, "once there's a verdict in the Titiyev case, they will no longer be welcome in Chechnya." Titiyev was already working in a very dangerous environment.

Natalya Estemirova, another Chechen human rights activist, was abducted and murdered in 2009. Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who exposed abuses in Chechnya, was shot to death in her Moscow apartment building three years earlier.

RACHEL DENBER: Human rights defenders, independent journalists and anyone who criticizes the Chechen authorities and Ramzan Kadyrov personally have been subjected to wave after wave of persecution, harassment, arrests and even murder.

KIM: Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch says Titiyev's prosecution is not an isolated case. But the Kremlin claims Titiyev's case is not indicative of the human rights situation in Chechnya and that only the court will establish his guilt or innocence. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUILTY GHOSTS' "GREAT MALEVOLENT WITHHOLDER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.