Russia politics: Pot shots
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- Economist Intelligence Unit
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- Politics, News Analysis
- Political Geography
Russia: Pot shots
A Chechen human-rights defender faces implausible drug charges
OYUB TITIEV suspected the day would come. As head of the Chechen branch of Memorial, a Russian human-rights group, his activities angered the region's authorities. His predecessor, Natalia Estemirova, was kidnapped and murdered in 2009. No-one has been punished for the crime. Mr Titiev (pictured) received death threats himself. He warned friends and colleagues that he could be arrested any time. "They'll plant drugs," he told a friend.
Mr Titiev's fears were justified. On January 9th Chechen police arrested him, claiming to have found some 180 grams of marijuana in a plastic bag inside his car. He was charged with drug possession and faces up to ten years in prison. Mr Titiev reported that officers threatened reprisals against his family if he did not plead guilty. The arrest looks like an attempt to force Memorial to cease its work in the region, where it has long documented torture and disappearances. On January 17th the Memorial office in neighbouring Ingushetia was burned down.
The Chechen authorities have a history of using fabricated drug cases to deal with critics. Ruslan Kataev, another human-rights activist, was arrested on drug charges in 2014, and released only late last year. Some two years later, Zhalaudi Geriev, an independent journalist, was sentenced on similar grounds; he remains behind bars. Both men were tortured in custody, says Human Rights Watch. The charges against Mr Titiev would be comical were they not so sinister. Friends and colleagues note that the 60-year-old Mr Titiev, a devout Muslim, neither drank nor smoked and began most days by running.
Russia's federal authorities have limited influence over Chechnya's internal affairs. The Kremlin depends on the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to preserve stability in the turbulent republic. Mr Kadyrov, in turn, is allowed to run the republic as a private fiefdom, with his own army.
Mr Kadyrov has been the target of particular criticism in the West for alleged human-rights abuses. He was recently added to America's "Magnitsky List" in connection with his alleged involvement "in disappearances and extrajudicial killings", including an anti-gay purge that swept the republic in early 2017. That led to Mr Kadyrov being banned from Western social networks such as Facebook and Instagram, which he used to communicate with millions of followers. The ban greatly irritated the Chechen leadership. The speaker of parliament, Magomed Daudov, described human-rights activists as "enemies" with "foreign bosses" and added: "If only Russia hadn't had a moratorium [on the death penalty], we could've just bid these enemies of the people 'salaam alaikum' and been done with them."
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