Russian Federation: Arson of the office of the Human Rights Center (HRC) Memorial in Nazran, Ingushetia, Chechen Republic

21/01/2018
Urgent Appeal

RUS 001 / 0118 / OBS 004.1
Arson of the office
Police surveillance
Russian Federation
January 19, 2018

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in the Chechen Republic, Russian Federation.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arson of the office of the Human Rights Center (HRC) Memorial in Nazran, Ingushetia, resulting in serious damage to three of the office’s six rooms.

According to the information received, on January 17, 2018, at 3.35 am, the CCTV camera of the HRC Memorial office recorded two young men, wearing masks and gloves, one of whom was carrying a canister. The arsonists put a ladder to the roof of the building and climbed to the second floor of the office. The attackers also attempted to break one of the CCTV video cameras installed on the building on their way to the window of HRC Memorial’s office. The camera also recorded the rapid departure of the two arsonists. Fortunately, the two attackers could only access three of the six rooms. The fire brigade arrived quickly at the scene and extinguished the fire but not before three of the office’s six rooms were burnt, destroying electronic equipment and documents. The remains of a melted plastic bottle with the smell of kerosene were found in the office of HRC Memorial Ingushetia office’s Head Mr. Timur Akiev.

Furthermore, it has been reported that on January 15 and 16, 2018, Mr. Oleg Orlov, Chairman of HRC Memorial Council, lawyer Pyotr Zaikin, who defends the Head of HRC Memorial in Chechnya, Mr. Oyub Titiev who is currently detained, and journalists who have arrived to Chechnya to investigate the case brought against Mr. Titiev are under constant surveillance of the local law-enforcement bodies. For two days, the group was detained five times allegedly for verification of their involvement with illegal armed groups.

The Observatory believes that the arson attack on the office of HRC Memorial in Ingushetia is part of a larger campaign against the organisation in the North Caucasus, aimed at pushing the human rights defenders out of the region. Indeed, these events come at a time when the Head of HRC Memorial in Chechnya, Oyub Titiev, has been detained, put in pre-trial detention and falsely charged with the possession of drugs on January 9, 2018. The defender and his family were threatened by law enforcement authorities in an attempt to extract a confession. The arson attack indicates an escalation of threats against HRC Memorial in the North Caucasus.

According to reliable sources, Mr. Oyub Titiev is no longer detained at the police station but at the temporary detention center (IVS). He has been able to meet with his lawyers several times. The next hearing will be held before the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic which will decide upon the appeal against the order for pre-trial detention issued by the Municipal Court of Chali. The date has not yet been set but the hearing will take place before February 16, 2018.

The Observatory condemns the arson attack against the office of HRC Memorial in Ingushetia as well as the fabricated case against Mr. Oyub Titiev as it believes they are directly linked to the legitimate human rights work of HRC Memorial in the North Caucasus.

Background information:

In the morning of January 9, 2018, Mr. Oyub Titiev left his home in the village of Kurchaloi, in the Chechen Republic, to head to a meeting with a friend scheduled at 9am and subsequently to the office of HRC "Memorial" in Grozny. Mr. Titiev being more than hour late for the meeting with a friend whose identity is not being revealed on purpose, the latter spotted Mr. Titiev on a road between the villages Kurchaloi and Mairtup, next to the bridge on the river Khumyk. Next to Mr. Titiev were 5-6 traffic police officers inspecting his car. Mr. Titiev gave his friend a sign not to approach him, and after the both cars left - that of Titiev and the second belonging to the traffic police - he headed to the Kurchaloi District Department of Internal Affairs supposing Mr. Titiev would be taken there. Although he was not allowed to enter the District Department of Internal Affairs, Mr. Titiev’s car present outside and unofficial sources allowed him to assume Mr. Titiev’s detention.

Despite repeated calls, the District Department officially kept denying Mr. Titiev’s presence. Several hours later, Mr. Titiev’s lawyer confirmed that his client was charged under Art. 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation possessing drugs in large amounts. If convicted, he risks up to ten years of imprisonment. Up to date, Mr. Titiev was denied access to his lawyer while his detention had not been officially confirmed by the authorities until 7 hours after his detention when Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Interior of the Chechen Republic Apti Alaudinov confirmed to the Russian Ombudsman Tatiana Moskalkova that Mr. Titiev was being kept in Kurchaloi police station. Alaudinov promised to Moskalkova that his lawyer would be able to meet him "soon".

In the context of appalling human rights violations in Chechnya, such as the right to access to a lawyer, widespread use of torture and ill-treatment, regular enforced disappearances and summary executions, murders of human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers and life-threatening risks they take by continuing their work, the Observatory fears that the abduction of Mr. Titiev and charges against him are a retaliation for his work.

This is the third time Chechen law enforcement use trumped up charges of drug possession to silence critical voices.

In 2014, the Urus-Martan Town Court of the Chechen Republic found the historian and head of an independent Chechen group Mr. Ruslan Kutaev guilty on dubious drug possession charges and sentenced him to four years in prison. In 2016, Chechnya-based Caucasian Knot journalist Mr. Zhalaudi Geriev was sentenced to three years in prison on trumped up of drug possession.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Russia, urging them to:

i. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the arson attack on the office of HRC Memorial in Ingushetia with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;

ii. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Oyub Titiev, the staff of HRC Memorial in Ingushetia and all journalists legitimately carrying out investigative work in Chechnya, including by putting an end to all forms of surveillance of their activities by local enforcement officials;

iii. Release Mr. Oyub Titiev immediately and unconditionally, and put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against him that seem to merely aim at sanctioning his human rights activities;

iv. Publicly recognise at the level of the President of the Russian Federation the crucial role of human rights defenders as pillars of democracy and watchdogs of the rule of law and publicly condemn all attacks against human rights defenders, particularly in the Chechen Republic;

v. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with Articles 1, 12.1 and 12.2;

vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by the Russian Federation.

Addresses :

· Vladimir Putin, President, Fax: + 7 495 606 3602; + 7 495 625 3581

· Dimitri Medvedev, Prime Minister, Twitter: @MedvedevRussia

· Sergueï Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fax: + 7 495 644 2203

· Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 734 40 44, E-mail: mission.russian@vtxnet.ch

· Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, Belgium. Fax: +32 2 374 26 13. E-mail: amrusbel@skynet.be

· Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe, France. Fax: (+33) (0) 3 88 24 19 74. Email: russia.coe@orange.fr

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Russia in your respective countries.

***

Paris-Geneva, January 19, 2018

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

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