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Journalist Zhalaudi Geriyev (file photo)

CHERNOKOZOVO, Russia -- A journalist in Chechnya, Zhalaudi Geriyev, has been released from prison after serving three-year term for illegal drug possession -- a charge he has been denying since his arrest.

Geriyev, a former correspondent for the Caucasian Knot website, left a penitentiary in the village of Chernokozovo in Chechnya, on April 30.

Geriyev was greeted at the gates by relatives, friends, and colleagues upon his release.

"I remained free while in prison, and continue to feel like a free man now," he said.

Geriyev says he was kidnapped, beaten, and accused of having marijuana in his backpack.

He was convicted and sentenced in 2016 but has maintained his innocence, contending that the drugs were planted in his backpack by police.

The Moscow-based human rights center Memorial has recognized Geriyev as a political prisoner and New York-based Human Rights Watch has said he was being "punished" for his work as a journalist.

Geriyev is known for his reporting on human rights in Chechnya, which is tightly controlled by Kremlin-backed regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Rights activists have accused Kadyrov and his paramilitary forces of serious rights abuses including the widespread use of kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial killings.

In another prominent case in Chechnya involving a drug charge disputed by the defendant, human rights activist Oyub Titiyev was convicted of marijuana possession in March and sentenced to four years in a penal colony.

Titiyev, the head of the Moscow-based group Memorial's office in Chechnya, said the drugs were planted in his car and that the prosecution was an effort to frighten human rights activists, who Kadyrov has said are not welcome in the region.

Amnesty International called the verdict against Titiyev "an affront to human rights, reason, and justice" and said it showed that the Russian justice system was "deeply flawed."

With reporting by Caucasian Knot

Elvira Dmitriyeva headed Aleksei Navalny's campaign in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan. (file photo)

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found that the Russian state violated the rights of a coordinator for opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's attempted presidential campaign and ordered it to pay 12,500 euros ($14,000).

The April 30 ruling in Elvira Dmitriyeva's case was the first decision on a series of complaints filed with the ECHR against Russia over a crackdown on nationwide protests organized by Navalny and his supporters on March 26, 2017.

Navalny sought to challenge President Vladimir Putin in a March 2018 election and conducted an active campaign but was barred from the ballot.

Dmitriyeva headed his campaign in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan.

In March 2017, Dmitriyeva was fined for posting an announcement about an anti-corruption rally in Kazan, and days later she was sentenced to 10 days in jail for taking part in the March 26 protest there, which was not approved by city authorities.

Russian law enforcement authorities detained more than 1,000 people in cities across the country at the March 26, 2017 protests, which were among the biggest anti-government demonstrations since a wave of rallies in 2011-12.

In its ruling, the ECHR in Strasbourg found that Russia had violated Dmitriyeva's rights to liberty and security, a fair trial, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and effective remedy.

In addition to the 12,500-euro payment for violating Dmitriyeva's rights, the court ordered Russia to cover Dmitriyeva's expenses linked to the hearing.

It was the ECHR's first decision linked to the March 26, 2017 rallies that were held in many towns and cities across Russia.

Russian opposition activist Aleksei Navalny (file photo)
Russian opposition activist Aleksei Navalny (file photo)

The protests were held after Navalny's anticorruption organization issued an investigative report alleging corruption benefiting Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, one of Putin's closest allies.

At least 12 more complaints have been filed with the ECHR by Russian activists who say they faced police brutality or were persecuted for taking part in the rallies, or both.

Russian election authorities barred Navalny from the March 2018 ballot because of a financial-crimes conviction that he says was engineered by the Kremlin to punish him for his opposition activity and keep him out of electoral politics.

Putin, who has been president or prime minister since 1999 and is accused by critics of using the police and courts to stifle dissent, won a new six-year Kremlin term in that election.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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