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Oyub Titiyev

The head of the prominent Russian human rights group Memorial's office in Chechnya has been detained on a drug charge, according to Chechen officials and a lawyer for the rights defender.

A fellow activist at Memorial dismissed the accusation against Oyub Titiyev as absurd, saying that it would be "more credible to accuse him of killing Napoleon."

Memorial had been struggling for hours to determine Titiyev's whereabouts and his fate after he failed to show up at a meeting with an acquaintance in the Kurchaloi district of the North Caucasus region early on January 9.

His disappearance underscored concerns about the risks faced by rights advocates, journalists, and opponents of Kremlin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

According to Memorial, the acquaintance said he saw Titiyev's car stopped by police on a highway after the two had planned to meet. Hours later he was told that Titiyev was at police headquarters in the town of Kurchaloi and saw Titiyev's car in the yard there.

But when Titiyev's lawyer arrived from the Chechen capital, Grozny, police in Kurchaloi told him that they did not have him in custody.

A leading figure at Memorial, Oleg Orlov, turned to President Vladimir Putin's advisory council on human rights and said through the council that he had received confirmation from Kheda Saratova, a member of Chechnya's human rights council, that Titiyev was being held by the Kurchaloi police.

'Climate Of Impunity'

Memorial voiced concern and demanded that the Russian government provide detailed information about Titiyev's whereabouts.

Later, Russian news agencies quoted Chechen officials as saying that Titiyev was detained on a charge of transporting drugs, and the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta also quoted Titiyev's lawyer as saying that he was accused on a narcotics charge.

Government critics in Russia and other former Soviet republics say that the authorities sometimes use drug charges to justify illegal arrests.

Katya Sokiryanskaya, a board member at Memorial, said that Titiyev would be the third public activist to face a drug charge in Chechnya in recent years.

In a tweet, Sokiryankaya said that Titiyev was 60 years old, "never misses a prayer" and goes to the gym "every evening."

"It'd be more credible to accuse him of killing Napoleon," she wrote.

Activists say that Kadyrov, who was appointed to head Chechnya by Putin in 2007, rules through repressive measures and has created a climate of impunity for security forces in the province.

They claim that he bears responsibility for abuses, including kidnappings, disappearances, torture, and killings of political opponents.

"In recent years, Kadyrov has often publicly smeared and threatened rights activists, and some of those activists also suffered attacks and harassment by local security officials or pro-government thugs," Tanya Lokshina, Human Rights Watch’s Russia program director, said on January 9.

"There’s no doubt that Titiyev's arrest is an attempt to finally push Memorial -- which has been extensively reporting on collective punishment practices, enforced disappearances, torture, punitive house burnings, and other abuses by local authorities -- out of Chechnya."

Rights organizations have reported a steady increase in the number of Chechens detained or abducted by security personnel in the past two years, and say many of those who have gone missing have disappeared without a trace.

Natalya Estemirova, a Memorial activist who was investigating rights abuses in Chechnya, was kidnapped in Grozny and killed in 2009.

Kremlin critics say Putin supports Kadyrov, turning a blind eye to alleged abuses and violations of the Russian Constitution, because he relies on the former rebel to keep a lid on separatist sentiment 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.

Yuriy Rossoshanskyy appears in a Kyiv court on January 9, where he was accused of murdering lawyer Iryna Nozdrovska.

A Ukrainian court has arrested a suspect in the killing of activist lawyer Iryna Nozdrovska that sparked public outrage and underscored concerns about the justice system in Ukraine.

The Kyiv region's Vyshhorod district court on January 9 placed Yuriy Rossoshanskyy, 64, in custody for 60 days without the possibility of bail.

During the hearing, Rossoshanskyy admitted to the slaying and said that nobody exerted pressure on him to commit the crime.

He is the father of Dmytro Rossoshanskyy, who was convicted of causing the death of Nozdrovska's sister when he hit her with his car while driving drunk in 2015.

On January 8, a week after Nozdrovska was found dead, police announced the detention of a suspect, who was not named at the time.

Mourners weep on the coffin carrying Iryna Nozdrovska in her hometown of Demydiv on January 9.
Mourners weep on the coffin carrying Iryna Nozdrovska in her hometown of Demydiv on January 9.

The court's order came after mourners paid their last respects to Nozdrovska, who was buried next to her sister, Svitlana Sapatanyska.

People placed flowers in the yard outside Nozdrovska's family home in Demydiv, a village in the Kyiv region, before she was laid to rest at a local cemetery on January 9.

Nozdrovska disappeared on December 29, after she helped ensure that the man convicted of causing the death of her sister was not released from prison.

The 38-year-old lawyer's body was found in a river not far from Demydiv on January 1, and police later said she died of multiple stab wounds.

Nozdrovska had been the target of threats for her efforts in the case of Dmytro Rossoshanskyy, the nephew of a district judge in the Kyiv region.

On December 27, amid efforts by Nozdrovska to raise public awareness about the case, judges rejected an appeal by Rossoshanskyy to overturn his seven-year prison sentence.

Iryna Nozdrovska had been the target of threats.
Iryna Nozdrovska had been the target of threats.

Ukrainian lawmaker Mustafa Nayyem wrote on Facebook on January 1 that Rossoshanskyy's father had threatened Nozdrovska at the December 27 hearing, warning her that she would "end up badly."

Activists say suspects who are relatives of officials often avoid prosecution or conviction or are released early -- a result of corruption that Western officials say harms the economy and hurts Ukraine's chances of throwing off Russian influence.

Russia seized control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, after a military occupation, and Moscow backs separatists whose war against government forces has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

With reporting by AFP, Interfax, Ukrayinska Pravda, and Strana.ua

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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