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Monday 10 June 2019

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Oyub Titiyev, head of the Chechnya branch of rights group Memorial, waits to hear the verdict in the town of Shali on March 18.

The Shali district court in Russia's Chechnya region says it has granted an early release from prison to human rights activist Oyub Titiyev.

The court on June 10 announced its decision to release Titiyev on parole. The ruling is expected to take up to 10 days to come into force.

Titiyev, the 61-year-old head of the Chechnya office of the human rights group Memorial, was arrested in January 2018 by police who claimed they found marijuana in his car.

Titiyev and Memorial say the drugs were planted there by the authorities in order to silence the group in Chechnya.

In March, the Shali court convicted Titiyev on charges of illegal drug possession and sentenced him to four years of forced labor in a penal colony.

Titiyev, his lawyers, and supporters have rejected the charges against him as politically motivated.

His trial was closely watched by Western governments concerned about the rule of law in Russia. International human rights groups denounced the trial as a farce.

Under Russian law, Titiyev could seek release on parole after serving at least one-third of his prison term. Counting his time spent in pretrial detention, Titiyev reached that mark -- 16 months in detention -- on May 9.

Activists contend that Chechnya's leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has committed serious human rights abuses, including the widespread use of kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial killings by forces under his control.

Kremlin critics say Russian President Vladimir Putin has given Kadyrov free rein in order to crack on separatism and Islamic extremism following two post-Soviet wars in Chechnya.

Based on reporting by Interfax, TASS, and RIA Novosti
Nizar Zakka was detained Tehran in 2015.

A Lebanese national who is serving a 10-year prison sentence in Iran on charges of spying for the United States "will be released in the coming hours," Iranian state television reports.

The June 10 report came after the semiofficial Fars news agency reported that technology expert Nizar Zakka will be handed over to Lebanon's Hizballah militant group.

It said that Zakka is to be released "only because of the respect and dignity" Iran has for Iran-backed Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

A top Lebanese security official is reportedly in Tehran to secure Zakka's release, which has been anticipated in recent days.

Zakka had been a Washington, D.C. resident and a U.S. Green Card holder.

The 52-year-old was head of an Arab IT organization that advocated for Internet development in the Middle East.

He was detained in September 2015 in Tehran after attending a government-organized conference.

Zakka was sentenced to 10 years in prison and handed a $4.2 million fine in 2016 after a court convicted him of espionage.

He denied the charges.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

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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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