CHERNOKOZOVO, Russia -- A journalist in Chechnya, Zhalaudi Geriyev, has been released from prison after serving three-year term for illegal drug possession -- a charge he has been denying since his arrest.
Geriyev, a former correspondent for the Caucasian Knot website, left a penitentiary in the village of Chernokozovo in Chechnya, on April 30.
Geriyev was greeted at the gates by relatives, friends, and colleagues upon his release.
"I remained free while in prison, and continue to feel like a free man now," he said.
Geriyev says he was kidnapped, beaten, and accused of having marijuana in his backpack.
He was convicted and sentenced in 2016 but has maintained his innocence, contending that the drugs were planted in his backpack by police.
The Moscow-based human rights center Memorial has recognized Geriyev as a political prisoner and New York-based Human Rights Watch has said he was being "punished" for his work as a journalist.
Geriyev is known for his reporting on human rights in Chechnya, which is tightly controlled by Kremlin-backed regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Rights activists have accused Kadyrov and his paramilitary forces of serious rights abuses including the widespread use of kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial killings.
In another prominent case in Chechnya involving a drug charge disputed by the defendant, human rights activist Oyub Titiyev was convicted of marijuana possession in March and sentenced to four years in a penal colony.
Titiyev, the head of the Moscow-based group Memorial's office in Chechnya, said the drugs were planted in his car and that the prosecution was an effort to frighten human rights activists, who Kadyrov has said are not welcome in the region.
Amnesty International called the verdict against Titiyev "an affront to human rights, reason, and justice" and said it showed that the Russian justice system was "deeply flawed."
With reporting by Caucasian Knot