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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the southern Russian region of Chechnya, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia April 19, 2017. © 2017 Reuters
(Moscow) – Russian President Vladimir Putin should condemn recent statements by Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s leader, threatening human rights defenders, Human Rights Watch said today. Kadyrov vowed to carry out collective punishment against families of alleged insurgents.

In a joint open letter, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders urged Putin to ensure that Kadyrov is not permitted to carry out his unlawful threats against human rights defenders and suspects’ relatives. The groups also called on Putin to take all necessary steps within his authority to obtain the immediate release of Oyub Titiev, Chechnya director of the leading Russian rights group Memorial. Titiev has been jailed on bogus drug possession charges for nearly eight months in retaliation for his human rights work.

“President Putin should rein in Kadyrov and remind him that Chechnya is bound by Russian law and Russia’s international human rights obligations,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on Russia’s leadership to foster a normal working climate for human rights defenders in Chechnya.”

On August 20, 2018, a group of Chechen youth attacked local police officials, allegedly killing one and wounding three. On August 23, Kadyrov publicly pledged to impose collective punishment on relatives of the attackers and made explicit threats against human rights defenders, equating them with “terrorists.”

Kadyrov stated that after Titiev’s trial, which has been ongoing since July under the close scrutiny of Russian and international rights groups, human rights defenders will no longer be able to work in or visit Chechnya. “I’m officially telling human rights defenders, once the court delivers its ruling [in Titiev’s case], Chechnya will be a forbidden territory for them, like for terrorists,” Kadyrov said.

“The evidence suggests that the Kremlin had instructed Kadyrov to allow human rights defenders to travel freely in Chechnya during Titiev’s trial,” Williamson said. “That means the Kremlin can also make it clear to Kadyrov that human rights defenders should be able to work in Chechnya anytime, and safely.”

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