A judge in Russia's Chechnya region has started reading the verdict in the trial of human rights activist Oyub Titiyev, who has been jailed for over a year on a drug-possession charge he and his supporters say is baseless and politically motivated.
With Titiyev, 61, confined behind bars in a courtroom cage, Judge Madina Zainetdinova read speedily from a thick case file at the court in the town of Shali, southeast of the Chechen capital, Grozny, on March 18.
Russian and foreign journalists tweeted from the trial of Titiyev, which is being closely watched by Western governments concerned about the rule of law in Russia and by human rights groups that have denounced it as a farce.
Court rulings in Russia frequently take hours and sometimes more than a day to read, with the judge reiterating the arguments from the prosecution and defense and pronouncing the verdict and sentence at the end.
Prosecutors have urged the Shali district court to find Titiyev, the head of the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial's office in Chechnya, guilty and sentence him to four years in prison.
Titiyev, a father of four who wore black clothes and a black skullcap in court, has been in jail since January 2018, when he was arrested after police stopped him in his car and alleged that they discovered marijuana in the vehicle.
In his final statement in court on March 11, Titiyev said that he was certain he will be convicted, describing the trial as a 'spit at justice' and a remarkable exercise in 'hypocrisy and cynicism.'
Titiyev's lawyers reiterated the contention that their client is innocent and that the drugs were planted.
They described the case as part of an effort to push Memorial out of Chechnya, ruled for 12 years by Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, and other parts of Russia's North Caucasus.
Human rights organizations, the United States, several European Union member states, the European Parliament, and the Council of Europes human rights commissioner have condemned Titiyevs arrest and voiced concern about the case.
In a statement on March 15, Human Rights Watch said the bogus case against Titiyev was based on fabricated evidence and aimed to stifle reporting on human rights abuses in Chechnya.
In the months before his arrest, Titiyev was gathering information about enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and secret detentions by security forces in Chechnya, the statement said.
On March 11, Amnesty International Russia researcher Natalya Prilutskaya said that 'the Russian criminal justice system is in full swing' and that it was clear that 'the purpose of Oyubs trial is not justice but revenge' for his work exposing rights abuses.
Activists contend that Kadyrov, who was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007, has committed serious human rights abuses, including the widespread use of kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial killings by forces under his power.
Kremlin critics say Putin has given him free rein because he relies on him to keep a lid on separatism following two devastating post-Soviet wars in Chechnya.
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