Chechen elders defend Oyub Titiev, head of Memorial office in Grozny

Chechen elders defend Oyub Titiev, head of Memorial office in Grozny
Oyub Titiev

Elders appearing for the defense is a big surprise for the prosecution in this process, as the word of elders in the Caucasus is traditionally considered indisputable.

In the Shamalinsky District Court of Chechnya, where the trial in the case of Head of Memorial’s Chechen office Oyub Titiev, who is accused of drug possession, is being heard, five elders of the rights defender’s city of residence Kurchaloy have appeared as witnesses for the defense. This is reported by Radio Svoboda. They described Titiev as “a person of exceptional decency who cannot even be suspected of using alcohol or drugs.” 

Novaya Gazeta, which covers the proceedings, notes that elders appearing for the defense is a big surprise for the prosecution in this process, as the word of elders in the Caucasus is traditionally considered indisputable, therefore, the testimonies of police officers “fall dramatically in value” against the background of the elders’ statements. 

Kavkazsky Uzel quotes the statement of witness Salam Dashaev, who called the charges against Titiev unfounded. “Since childhood, he has fought only for the truth and spoken only the truth, lived all his life the right way. The charge against him is all a lie. He never smoked or drank alcohol; he is a religious athletic guy. He cannot have anything to do with drugs, as he never even held them in his hands,” the witness said.

Similar testimony was given by Titiev’s neighbor, Sultan Dashaev. “He grew up before our very eyes, I can only speak favorably about him. He has never drunk or smoked. He goes to the mosque; he can’t have anything to do with drugs,” the man said. Another fellow villager of Oyub, Khasan Askolov, expressed his willingness to swear on the Koran that Titiev never had anything to do with drugs, did not drink or smoke. 

After the Kurchaloy elders, the court heard witnesses Dmitry Utukin and Sergey Babinets, who worked as part of the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) of human rights defenders in Chechnya until 2016. Both of them, being constantly interrupted by prosecutors, gave a presentation of targeted extrusion of human rights defenders from the region. According to Utukin, the danger posed by security forces was often discussed: Titiev was engaged in affairs involving representatives of the government, and the likelihood of pressure on the part of security forces was high. 

Utukin also spoke about personal threats from one of the high-ranking Chechen security officials to JMG employees. After the statements of human rights defenders about the involvement of an officer of one of the security forces in the abductions of people, the head of this unit summoned JMG employees, promising to deal with them “not according to federal laws, but according to their own laws.” 

According to the rights defenders, in 2014 and 2015, the JMG office in Grozny was burned and destroyed, and in 2016, a bus with journalists, who came to Chechnya to cover the situation, was attacked. In addition, members of the mobile group were constantly threatened by high-ranking officials, including Ramzan Kadyrov, who urged them to go home. “In the end, everybody left Chechnya – except for Memorial under the leadership of Oyub Titiev,” the witnesses stated.

“We have repeatedly discussed this, but despite this situation, Titiev never stopped working. He said: ‘If I leave, who will do this, who will help these people?’ Oyub considered it his duty to be in Chechnya. People who were tortured, relatives of those who disappeared or were kidnapped – all of them went to Oyub. They trusted him much more than they did law enforcement officers,” Utukin said. Another witness, Sergey Babinets, said that Titiev was ready for incidents.

Head of the Chechen office of Memorial Human Rights Center Oyub Titiev was detained on January 9, 2018. Allegedly, the police found a bag of marijuana in his car. Two days later, Titiev was arrested and charged with drug possession on a large scale. 

The human rights defender said he had been planted drugs. International organizations, including the Council of Europe, Russian opposition politicians, and public figures have repeatedly called for the release of Titiev. Memorial members believe that his arrest is connected with the fact that Head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, wanted to get rid of the human rights center in the Republic.

May 18, it was reported that material evidence, including Titiev’s personal belongings, a dashboard camera, and equipment that tracked the route and location of his car, had gone missing. In addition, the handle and lock of the car have been damaged – the door could have been opened without a key. Later it turned out that one of the arresting witnesses who were present during the search of Titiev’s car, during which he was allegedly found to have drugs, worked in the police. 

As the defense said in court, the investigator avoided meeting with Titiev’s lawyers for two weeks, preventing them from studying the materials of the inspection. During the court session, lawyer Petr Zaikin asked the prosecutor of the Kurchaloy Regional Department of Internal Affairs to influence the investigator and ensure the possibility of familiarization with the documents for the defense.

“The investigator informed me that the initiation of criminal proceedings in connection with the statement of Oyub was denied. We were not able to get acquainted with the materials of the case, but a cursory review of the refusal order, which we received in court only today, enables me to draw preliminary conclusion that the inspection had been carried out superficially,” Zaikin said. 

According to the lawyer, the order itself was also drafted superficially, since the investigator did not even consider it necessary to obtain an explanation of Titiev. “The purpose of such an inspection is not to look for anything, not to investigate the defense version, but to do everything to defend the honor of non-compliant security official,” he said. 

As for Titiev, he expressed doubt that the items and equipment taken from him would be found: “I don’t think they will find them. But if they do, they are likely to be out of order and, of course, contain no data.” The next court hearing in the case of the human rights activist is scheduled for November 19.

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