No Fair Trial for Oyub Titiev
The next hearings in the case of prominent Chechen human rights defender Oyub Titiev will be held behind closed doors, the Shali district court has ordered. The formal reason behind denying the public access to the hearings is that the security of the witnesses cannot be guaranteed. Civil Rights Defenders believes that the real reason is to cover up that Oyub Titev is not given the right to a fair trial.
In early January this year, Oyub Titiev, Memorial’s director in the Chechen capital Grozny, was pulled over by the police on his way to work. He was later charged with unlawful possession of drugs, which can lead to up to 10 years in prison.
His trial started in late July, and there has since been about a dozens of hearings, all of which have been open to the public. In the coming hearings, witnesses – the majority of whom are members of the law enforcement that was involved in detention of Oyub Titiev – will give their testimonies. This has led the court to close the doors to the trial, as “the witnesses’ security cannot be guaranteed”. However, Civil Rights Defenders believes that the real reason is to cover up shortcomings in the trial.
In Russia, it is common that politically motivated cases are characterised by unfair trials. The constituent Republic of Chechnya is particularly notorious in this matter, and the independence of the judiciary is virtually non-existent. There has furthermore been examples of when leading staff at the Supreme Court of Chechnya have been threatened and physically abused. Oyub Titiev’s lawyers initially requested to move the trial to another region in Russia, in order to avoid pressure directed towards the judges. But the Supreme Court of Chechnya denied the request.
“We were not under the illusion that this would be a fair trial, and the decision to close the doors to the public raises questions on whether this is an attempt to conceal obvious errors. We are very concerned about the safety of Oyub Titiev – our colleague and friend. We urge the Russian authorities to ensure his right to a fair trial, so that he can to show his innocence, and then to drop the charges against him completely”, said Ana Furtuna, Eurasia Programme Director at Civil Rights Defenders.
Civil Rights Defenders further urges the international community to keep a close watch on how the trial progresses, and demand Russian authorities to free Oyub Titiev.
The case against Oyub Titiev is by all appearances a consequence of his work to promote and protect civil and political rights in Chechnya. The Human Rights Centre Memorial has done extensive reporting and provided legal aid to victims of grave human rights violations since the beginning of the First Chechen War. The organisation has, among other things, documented and reported on illegal detentions, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings – abuses continue to be conducted in a climate of complete impunity.
Lately, the local dictator – Ramzan Kadyrov – has intensified the campaign to persecute anyone who expresses criticism, or deviates in virtually any aspect of life. Only last year, the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and Memorial reported on dozens of extrajudicial killings. Furthermore, Novaya Gazeta has exposed mass detentions, cases of torture, and killings of gay men. Since then, Kadyrov has stepped up his efforts to oust all critical voices from the region and, because of their sensitive work, Memorial has been subjected to intimidation on all levels.
Also read: Chechnya Risk Becoming the Next North Korea.