Chechnya’s unpredictable and feared leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who is unconditionally backed by Putin, has derided human rights groups and warned that human rights NGOs will not be able to pursue their activities in his region, days after the arrest of a local activist and an arson attack against a human rights office in a nearby region.
Kadyrov said the activist, Oyub Titiyev, the head of the Russian human rights group Memorial’s office in Chechnya, is a “drug addict” and branded all human rights defenders as “people without kinship, ethnicity, and religion.”
Titiyev was arrested on 9 January by police who said they found marijuana in his car, although he says the drugs were planted there by the officers.
Memorial and other supporters also say the charge against Titiyev, 60, who colleagues say is a devout Muslim who does not drink or use drugs, was fabricated. Western governments and international organizations have voiced concern about the case and called for Titiyev’s release.
“I am surprised when people who call themselves Chechens work with [rights groups]. I am also surprised that their relatives do not stop them,” Kadyrov said. “They have to know that [rights activists] will never get away with their activities in our republic.”
Natalya Estemirova, who was Titiyev’s predecessor at Memorial in Chechnya, was abducted and killed in 2009. She was investigating alleged rights abuses in Chechnya by regional authorities and Russian military forces.
Kadyrov’s remarks came hours after a fire that security-camera footage suggested was started by masked assailants gutted part of Memorial’s office in the neighboring region of Ingushetia.
Memorial linked what it called the arson attack to the jailing of Titiyev, saying that both appeared to be part of an effort to drive the groups out of the North Caucasus.
Following the attack on Memorial in the Ingush town of Nazran, Amnesty International called on Russia to investigate what it labelled a “coordinated assault” on the Russian NGO.
“Any failure to do so would raise suspicions about the authorities’ possible involvement,” said Anna Neistat, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Research.