Arson and fear of torture

Less than one week after a leading human rights activist was arrested on bogus charges, the organisation Memorial suffers a new set back: One of their offices burned down to the ground.

Oyub Titiev, a leading human rights in Chechnya, was arrested 9 January and has been imprisoned since with little outside contact. Several international actors have spoken out to his defense, but the situation is still crucial, and has escalated through attacks on his colleagues.

Heartbreaking letter from prison

Yesterday, Oyub Titiev’s lawyer managed to hand over a letter his client had written in prison to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Chairman of the Russian Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin, and director of the Federal Security Service FSB Alexander Bortnikov.

In the letter, Titiev warns against the following;

“if I in any way were to confess my guilt in the actions I have been accused of, this will mean that I have been coerced into doing so, either by means of physical force or blackmail.”

Oyub Titiev, Chechnyas leading human rights defender  

– When an experienced activist such as Titiev feels the need to underline this, it is clear that there is a great risk for such treatment, says Lene Wetteland, Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC).

Arson attack

This morning, Titiev’s and our colleagues in Memorial Ingushetia, Chechnya’s neighbouring republic, found that their offices in Nazran had burnt out after an arson attack. None of the staff members were injured, but several folders of documentation of human rights abuse against Russian citizens were destroyed in the fire, and the office is inhabitable.

Photo: Memorial

This is far from the first time an office of human rights activists in the North Caucasus has been arsoned or attacked. A few years ago the Joint Mobile Group of Sakharov Freedom Award laureate Committee against Torture in Grozny  were attacked and arsoned  as well.

No coincidence

– It is no coincidence that these events take place so soon after each other. The goal is to forcibly drive out human rights activists from North Caucasus. Such treatment of human rights activists must stop, says secretary general Bjorn Engesland at the NHC.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee has followed up our first letter to the Norwegian Government to bring up the Titiev-case with Russian authorities with yet a letter following the latest developments.

– it is now time for the international community to do further actions, and initiate a joint delegation of diplomats to visit the region to demonstrate the importance of the issue. Such presence will also prevent torture of Oyub Titiev who is already in the hands of the authorities, and prevent further harassment of his colleagues who now find themselves in a very difficult situation, Engesland says.

Read the letter to the Norwegian Government here. (In Norwegian)