The Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has lashed out at human rights groups and rejected claims that an activist jailed on a drug charge is the victim of a fabricated allegation.
Kadyrov's characteristically bellicose remarks at a televised Chechen government meeting on January 17 were his most extensive public statements about the arrest of Oyub Titiyev, the head of the Russian human rights group Memorial's office in Chechnya.
Titiyev, who was detained on January 9 by police who said they found marijuana in his car, denies wrongdoing and contends that the drugs were planted.
Memorial and other supporters also say the charge against Titiyev, 60, who colleagues say is a devout Muslim who does not drink or use drugs, was fabricated. Western governments and international organizations have voiced concern about the case and called for Titiyev's release.
Kadyrov rejected all criticism about the case in his comments, calling Titiyev a "drug addict" and branding all human rights defenders "people without kinship, ethnicity, and religion."
"Isn't it amazing that the UN and the U.S. State Department raised their voices [when] one person from [Chechnya's] Kurchaloi district was detained with marijuana? Why did they keep silent when we arrested other drug addicts?" he said.
"Why do they think that [Titiyev] cannot use drugs? We catch people who are 60, 70 years old because they use drugs. Can't we detain him? Of course, we can," Kadyrov said.
Kadyrov also suggested that "real" Chechens do not work for human rights organizations.
"I am surprised when people who call themselves Chechens work with [rights groups]. I am also surprised that their relatives do not stop them," he said. "They have to know that [rights activists] will never get away with their activities in our republic."
Human rights activists say that Kadyrov, who was appointed by President Vladimir Putin in 2007 to head the region in the North Caucasus, rules through repressive measures and has created a climate of impunity for security forces. They also charge that Kadyrov has been responsible for abuses that include kidnappings, disappearances, torture, and killings of political opponents.
Natalya Estemirova, who was Titiyev's predecessor at Memorial in Chechnya, was abducted and killed in 2009. She was investigating alleged rights abuses in Chechnya by regional authorities and Russian military forces.
Kadyrov's remarks came hours after a fire that security-camera footage suggested was started by masked assailants gutted part of Memorial's office in the neighboring region of Ingushetia.
Memorial linked what it called the arson attack to the jailing of Titiyev, saying that both appeared to be part of an effort to drive the groups out of the North Caucasus.
Kremlin critics say Putin turns a blind eye to alleged abuses and violations of the Russian Constitution by Kadyrov because he relies on the former rebel to control separatist sentiments and violence in Chechnya, the site of two devastating post-Soviet wars and an Islamist insurgency that spread to other mostly Muslim regions in the North Caucasus.