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Rights Activist's Drug-Possession Trial To Begin In Chechnya

Oyub Titiyev leaves court after a hearing in Grozny on July 3.
Oyub Titiyev leaves court after a hearing in Grozny on July 3.

Amid severe concern from fellow activists, the head of the human rights group Memorial's office in Chechnya is due to be tried on a drug-possession charge he contends was fabricated as a reprisal for his work in the tightly controlled Russian region.

A preliminary hearing in the trial of Oyub Titiyev was expected to be held on July 9 at a court in Grozny, Chechnya's capital.

The hearing was postponed from July 3 after Titiyev sought to move the trial to Moscow or another region, arguing that courts in Chechnya would be biased because senior officials in the region have essentially pronounced Titiyev guilty.

The top court in Chechnya, which is ruled by Kremlin-allied strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, rejected the request for a change of venue.

Titiyev has been in jail since his arrest in January, when police said they found marijuana in his car.

Titiyev and colleagues at Memorial accuse the police of planting the drugs, and the case is widely seen by Russian and international rights activists as punishment for his work exposing rights abuses in Chechnya.

Titiyev, 60, could be sentenced to 10 years in prison if convicted, and acquittals are very rare in Russian courts. Rights groups and Western governments have called on Russia to release him and end what they call his politically motivated prosecution.

Human Rights Watch has called the charges "bogus" and said the case "seems to be part of an effort by Chechen authorities to shut Memorial out of the region."

With reporting by Kommersant and Ekho Moskvy
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