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(Another) Mockery of Justice in Russia

Chechen Rights Defender Oyub Titiev’s Trial Draws to a Close

Oyub Titiev, a Chechen human rights activist, has been behind bars for more than 13 months on bogus drug charges and his trial is now drawing to a close. Today, the defense filed its last motion, and the judge declined it – just as she has declined all other defense motions.

Oyub Titiev at the Shali court in Chechnya, February 12, 2019. © 2019 Tanya Lokshina/Human Rights Watch

When Oyub’s trial began last summer, we had little, if any, expectations for a fair hearing. A man jailed by Chechen authorities in retaliation for documenting their rights violations cannot anticipate justice in a local courtroom. Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov has publicly and repeatedly condemned Oyub as a “traitor” working for an enemy organization – Russia’s leading rights group – and a “drug addict.” No local court would dare acquit him, no matter how blatant the fabrication.

Kadyrov runs Chechnya as his own fiefdom and judges, like others, who disobey him, risk retribution. So it’s no surprise that the presiding judge in Oyub’s trial was unfazed that a key prosecution witness had initially been unable to identify Oyub. Nor was she daunted by a “coincidence” of more than a dozen security cameras, including at the police precinct, simultaneously experiencing temporary failure on January 9, 2018, when Oyub was arrested. She was also unaffected when the defense argued the marijuana Titiev supposedly had in his car had never been tested to ensure it had psychotropic properties, even though hemp grows wild all over Chechnya.

The police official who claimed to have seized the marijuana from Oyub’s car described it in an official document as being in “one black bag inside another.” A state forensic expert, however, described the evidence submitted for analysis as a black bag with a piece of scotch tape stuck to it. Somehow the second bag mysteriously disappeared, but a piece of tape appeared instead conveniently covered with the defendant’s hair, which made it possible for the prosecution to establish a direct connection between Oyub and the bag of marijuana. But naturally, the judge rejected the defense’s motion on evidence tampering.

One more hearing remains in this farcical trial. Then the court will hear final arguments and Oyub’s final statement, which he has been writing and re-writing for a month now. Then, we will hear the verdict.

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