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Titiyev, Activist Jailed In Chechnya, Awarded Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize


Oyub Titiyev

Oyub Titiyev, a dogged Russian activist who is in jail and on trial in his native Chechnya on what he says is a fabricated drug-possession charge, has been awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) announced the award on the opening day of its autumn plenary session on October 8.

Titiyev, who succeeded slain activist Natalya Estemirova as head of the Chechnya office of the prominent Russian human rights group Memorial in 2009, was arrested in Chechnya in January.

"We are fully aware of the difficulties that [Titiyev] and his colleagues face," PACE President Liliane Maury Pasquier said.

"This prize is a recognition of the work he and Memorial are doing," she said. "It is also a message to all those who work in this region to affirm the principles of the rule of law and human rights."

The annual award, which comes with 60,000 euros, a trophy, and a diploma, was presented to Memorial board chairman Aleksandr Cherkasov at a ceremony in Strasbourg.

The two other shortlisted nominees -- Rosa Maria Paya and Nabeel Rajab, democracy and human rights activists in Cuba and Bahrain, respectively -- received diplomas.

Describing Titiyev as "one of Russia's most courageous human rights defenders," Amnesty International reiterated its call for the activist's release.

"We continue to call on the Russian authorities to immediately release Oyub Titiyev, drop the politically motivated charges against him, and ensure that human rights defenders in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia can carry out their vital work without fear of reprisals," Amnesty said in an October 8 statement.

Titiyev has been in custody since he was detained by police in Chechnya who said they found a plastic bag with some 180 grams of marijuana in his car.

He and his colleagues contend that the drugs were planted and have described the case as part of an effort to push Memorial out of Chechnya -- ruled for years by Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov -- and other parts of Russia's North Caucasus.

Titiyev, 61, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted in the trial, which was closed to the public in September.

The United States, several European Union member states, and the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner have condemned Titiyev's arrest and expressed concerns about the case.

Memorial has called the charges against Titiyev "bogus," saying they were "clearly fabricated as a means of silencing him."

Human Rights Watch has called the charges a "pure fabrication" and Amnesty International has called the case "a grave injustice that strikes at the heart of Russia's human rights community."

The award comes a day after the 12th anniversary of the killing in Moscow of Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter who uncovered alleged rights abuses in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia.

Estemirova, Titiyev's predecessor as head of the Memorial office in Chechnya, was abducted near her home in the Chechen capital, Grozny, in July 2009 and shot dead. Nobody has been convicted of her killing

Colleagues of Politkovskaya contend that the authorities have failed to determine who was behind her slaying because a thorough investigation could cast suspicion on people close to Kadyrov or President Vladimir Putin.

In August, Kadyrov threatened to ban human rights activists from Chechnya once Titiyev's trial is over.

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