Opinion: The Titiev trial — a Chechen circus | Opinion | DW | 19.11.2018
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Opinion

Opinion: The Titiev trial — a Chechen circus

A "show trial" is the only way to describe the proceedings against Russian human rights activist Oyub Titiev in Chechnya. Throwing him in jail is a disgrace, says DW's Miodrag Soric.

Are the Chechen authorities really only interested in the evidence they themselves falsified? Last January police planted 200 grams (7 ounces) of marijuana in Oyub Titiev's pocket while arresting him.

Their aim in doing so? To silence the head of Memorial's Grozny office in Chechnya. The 61-year-old human rights activist has been in custody since then.

And so on Monday, November 19 the show trial against him rolled on. Now, the world's eyes are on Chechnya.

Titiev: An observer of the law

For years Titiev has condemned the way local police local arrest people, mostly at night, and how they disappear without a trace. In other words, how they are murdered at the hands of the state.

Soric, Miodrag

Miodrag Soric is DW's correspondent in Russia

Titiev has been vocal against the torture and widespread corruption taking place in Chechnya. Along with documenting human rights violations, Memorial also assists victims.

It is the last independent nongovernmental organization operating in Chechnya — Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov expelled the rest; he did so without even seeking permission from Moscow. Even the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, appear powerless in Kadyrov's empire. Chechnya's strongman has the final say here.

Titiev is one of the few who has refused to bow down to Kadyrov's intimidation. That is precisely why he is now in prison. What really speaks for itself is the ruthless tactic of targeting a human rights activist through drug accusations. It shows the utter disregard for the rule of law and the degree of corruption and the dishonorable lengths the authorities are willing to go to.

Read more: Ten years on, who contracted Politkovskaya's killers?

Honor plays an important role in Chechen society and it is therefore of significant interest at the "witness hearing" because many people knew Titiev as a man of integrity. This is a man who prays five times a day and obeyed Ramadan, such is the practice of a devout Muslim; that he is helpful, modest, he abstains from smoking and drinking.

Many people speak of knowing Titiev since childhood. Some who lived in his neighborhood attest to him going to a sports club every day. When an elderly man asked the judge how the authorities had come up with such an absurd idea that Titiev would consume drugs, even the security guards in the courtroom chuckled. The prosecutor appeared helpless.

Kremlin should use its influence

The Council of Europe made a wise decision in awarding Titiev this year's Vaclav Havel Prize. It is also right and proper that Western politicians, diplomats and journalists monitor the proceedings. It's the only protection he has. The Kremlin should use the little influence it still has in Chechnya to have him released — not to merely capitulate to Western pressure, but out of Russian national interest.

Two wars, which left more than 160,000 people dead, have devastated Chechen society. The economy has tanked. The republic is dependent on the Russian taxpayers.  Anyone who wants a job in Chechnya needs ties to power. Many there have forgotten — or never experienced —  the rule of law. Too often, authoritarian power is all that counts.

That there are still such selfless people like Titiev in Chechnya after the misery and suffering the region has endured is something Chechens can and should be proud of. Throwing him in prison is a disgrace.

Watch video 02:13

Human rights activist Oyub Titiev on trial in Chechnya

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