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9 October 2018

Oyub Titiev awarded Václav Havel Human Rights Prize

Front Line Defenders welcomes the announcement that Russian human rights defender Oyub Titiev has been awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The Award will serve to draw international attention to the plight of Mr. Titiev, who currently sits in prison in Chechnya, on trumped up drug possession charges, meant to shut down human rights work in the republic.

Mr. Titiev is the Head of the Chechnya branch of Human Rights Center Memorial, a human rights organisation that provides legal assistance to victims of gross human rights violations and is involved in human rights education, research and publications. He succeeded Natalia Estemirova, who was killed in July 2009. In recent years, Mr. Titiev has received numerous threats linked to his human rights work.

“This Award should serve as a clarion call to Russian authorities to immediately release Mr. Titiev and drop these spurious charges against him."

Mr. Titev has been in prison since January 2018, when he was charged with large-scale drug possession under point 2 of Article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. He was arrested in Grozny on 9 January 2018 on the road to Kurchaloy, Chechnya and charged with drug possession. He was then held incommunicado for almost eight hours before being granted access to a lawyer. According to his lawyer, Oyub Titiev reported that he was stopped first by a road police patrol on the morning of 9 January and ordered out of his car, questioned on the roadside and instructed to open the boot of the car. During this time it is believed that a bag of marijuana was planted underneath the front seat of his car by a road police officer, which was then ‘found’ by a fellow officer searching the car. He was taken to the police station, but this was not the correct procedure, which Mr. Titiev protested.

Following his protests he was instructed to drive his car back to the location where he had been detained earlier in the day. Once there, he was stopped again by the road police patrol and the bag of marijuana which had been earlier planted in his car was ‘found’ once again, at which time the discovery was reported to Kurchaloy regional police station. Police officers were then dispatched to the scene with witnesses, thereby meeting procedural requirements. He was subsequently charged with drug possession.

Front Line Defenders Executive Director, Andrew Anderson, noted, “This Award should serve as a clarion call to Russian authorities to immediately release Mr. Titiev and drop these spurious charges against him. Chechen and Russian authorities do themselves no favors by jailing human rights defenders and especially in the case of Mr. Titiev, this case serves only to expose the absurdity of the human rights situation in Chechnya.”

In his prepared remarks in the event he won the Award, Mr. Titiev remarked, “I know one thing for sure: the work of human rights protection in Chechnya and Russia must go on. And international solidarity can contribute to it.” The intimidation, harassment, jailing and even killing of HRDs in Checnhya and Russia has not stopped – and will not stop – HRDs like Mr. Titiev from defending the fundamental rights of their communities.

Front Line Defenders congratulates Mr. Titiev on this recognition and also salutes the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for making this choice, and standing up to confront the targeting of human rights defenders by a member of the Council.