Human Rights Watch (HRW) is seeking help from world soccer’s governing body to obtain the release of Oyub Titiyev, a Chechen human rights defender being held by Russia on drug charges that his associates say are fabricated.
HRW said on May 3 that FIFA should use its "leverage" with the Kremlin ahead of the June 14 start of the 2018 World Cup soccer championship to secure Titiyev's unconditional release.
"To its credit, FIFA recently adopted human rights policies to guide its operations," said Rachel Denber, deputy director of HRW's Europe and Central Asia division.
"Now, just a few weeks before the World Cup starts, it's game time," Denber said. "Oyub Titiyev’s freedom is on the line, and FIFA should make full use of its leverage, at the highest levels."
HRW said it sent a letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, urging him to personally ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to order Titiyev's release.
HRW's statement follows a call by Amnesty International on May 2 for Russian authorities to "immediately and unconditionally" release Titiyev.
It also comes as the Supreme Court of Chechnya on May 3 was scheduled to begin a hearing into Titiyev's appeal against his pretrial detention.
Western governments have also voiced concerns about Titiyev's case and called for his release.
The 60-year-old Titiyev heads the Chechen office of the Russian human rights organization Memorial. He has been in pretrial detention in Chechnya since his arrest there on January 9 on charges of marijuana possession.
Titiyev had been stopped and detained by police while in his car. Chechen authorities later said drugs had been found in his vehicle.
Titiyev has denied the allegations. Both he and Memorial insist the bag of marijuana had been planted.
HRW called the case against Titiyev "fabricated" and said it "seems to be part of an effort by Chechen authorities to shut Memorial out of the region."
HRW said Memorial is "the only rights group remaining on the ground in Chechnya, and its departure would leave victims of human rights abuses with no local recourse."
Titiyev's pretrial detention was initially ordered by the Shali City Court in Chechnya.
A district court in Grozny on April 25 extended Titiyev’s pretrial detention for an additional month.
If convicted, Titiyev faces up to 10 years in prison.