Oyub Titiev: "Am I a troublemaker because I tried to get the authorities to pay attention to violations of people's rights?" [Memorial Human Rights Centre]

posted 20 Mar 2019, 12:41 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Mar 2019, 12:52 ]
13 March 2019

Oyub Titiev, head of Memorial Human Rights Centre's Grozny office, was tried in a fabricated case under Article 228, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code (possession of drugs). On March 11, he made his final statement in court. The verdict was announced on March 18. He was sentenced to four years in a low-security prison colony. Here is the text of his statement:

To begin, I would like to thank my colleagues and friends for the tremendous work they have done in these 14 months. Thank you very much, everyone!

I have great friends and colleagues.

I also want to thank my lawyers, who have done a tremendous job. You have really proved that this accusation means as much as this paper [shows case papers]—trash.

I want to thank the politicians and public figures who have protested my arrest and the fabrication of this criminal case. In particular, I want to thank the president of France, who spoke about these matters in a one-on-one meeting with the Russian president. Thank you to Grigory Alekseevich Yavlinsky and Ksenia Anatol’evna Sobchak, who traveled to Chechnya and spoke in support of me. Thank you very much.

Thank you to the journalists who covered the trial and travelled here over the course of these eight months.

Thank you to the foreign institutions that repeatedly protested the fabrication of this case.

Thank you to those who appealled to the president of our country about this case. Thousands of voices raised in protest against this case.

I also want to thank everyone who wrote to me. The letters came by the hundreds, and I couldn't count them if I tried. Several thousand letters were sent to the remand prison.

I must apologize to my loved ones for the suffering that they have endured because of me; I must thank them for their patience and resilience. I know that this is harder for them than it is for me, much harder.

Now onto my case.

My lawyer Ilya Novikov said that my prosecution "broke a record." And maybe more than one record. I'm certain that this trial broke records for hypocrisy and cynicism. I'm 100% certain of this.
It is what we expected.

I, Oyub Salmanovich Titiev, born August 24, 1957, was put behind bars at 9am on 9 January 2018, by the will of the Almighty. I accepted this with humility and gratitude to Allah. I want to believe that He sent me this ordeal out of love for me, not because of my sins. I want to believe that this is a test of my fortitude and faith in the Almighty.

I'm a father of four, with one child still young. I hope that they endure the ordeal sent to us.

I have been living in Kurchaloi since 7 November 1957. We left exile in Kyrgyzstan and ended up in Gudermes, and since November 1957 I have been living in the village of Kurchaloi. Sixty-one years have passed. Much has changed in this time. The country has had seven heads of state, the Soviet Union has dissolved, and socialism has become a thing of the past, replaced by democracy. Our country is said to be democratic, but it's a strange kind of democracy. In a democratic country, you don't get sent to jail for one "like" on the Internet. People are not seized on the streets. People are not locked away. We have more and more duties every year, and fewer rights. The State Duma is hard at work: laws are cranked out every day that limit freedom and send people to jail for the smallest violations.

I was in Moldova in October 2017 as part of a group of human rights activists and lawyers. We met with government officials and non-governmental organizations. Among those we met with was the Minister of Justice. I was very eager to talk with him about the country's penal system. They have only 8,000 people in their prisons. "Only" is, of course, the wrong word to use. But this is a small number for Moldova, a country with a population of over four million. I asked the Minister, "Why does your country, with its weak economy — and he agreed that the economy is weak — have so few people behind bars? After all, crime rates are usually higher in countries with weak economies." He responded that Moldova likely has low crime rates because they have humane laws. Also, the Minister purchased a large quantity of wristbands for house arrest, so that some prisoners could be sent home under restricted conditions. About 10-15% of the 8,000 prisoners are expected to be released and transferred to house arrest. Their laws are humane towards the people but very harsh towards government officials, as I learned. They have imprisoned two prime ministers and more than thirty prosecutors and judges. I really liked that.

You'll never see that in our country. We have more than a million people behind bars in Russia. The government spends tremendous amounts of money to maintain the army. And they're probably not even spending all that money to maintain the army.

If they were to release even 50% of prisoners — I'm sure that half of all prisoners are in jail on fabricated charges — the housing problem in this country could be solved in a few years.

Here I've been, behind bars for 14 months.

I wrote to the President on January 12, 2018. I haven't heard back from him.

In addition to my appeal, more than 170,000 citizens signed an appeal to him.

Well-known and respected people in Russia have appealed to him. Grigory Alekseevich Yavlinsky was at the court hearings twice — at the Staropromyslovskiy and Shalinsky Courts. Both times he spoke in support of me. And both times he later spoke with the President, whom he alerted to the obvious falsification of the charge against me. One of the times this happened on the record, witnessed by many people. To date, there has been no response.

After all, who am I, anyway? One voice... There are millions of people like me, hundreds of millions. The public means nothing more in this country.

I'm a troublemaker — I tried to get the authorities to pay attention to the violations of people's rights.

I also appealled to the director of the FSB. But the response I got from the Chechen Republic — two letters with the same content — was all of two lines. They told me that what I wrote about was not confirmed. That meant I'd lied.

It's true, the people in our country are only needed when there's an election. But our people still believe in a 'good tsar.'

This reminds me of a joke, excuse me. The joke is about an elderly Jewish man who would go to the Wailing Wall every day. A journalist saw the elderly man going to the Wailing Wall and decided to interview him. The journalist asked the man, "What are you asking for at the wall?" The man answered, "I'm asking for the welfare of the people to improve, for justice, for our rights to be respected, and so on." The journalist asked, "Have you been coming here for a long time?" The man replied, "Yes, every day for 40 years now." The journalist asked, "And how do you feel after 40 years?" The man replied, "I feel like I have been talking to a wall for 40 years."

The same thing is happening here.

I’d like to tell you how I ended up working for Memorial.

In summer 2001, a very brutal ‘mopping up operation’ took place in our village. The village was under siege for five days. Soldiers searched every house, turning everything upside down. Everything valuable was taken. Hundreds of people were taken to be processed at a location specially set up on the outskirts of the village. More than a hundred young people were tortured. Five of my fellow villagers were killed with explosives. With great difficulty, we managed to identify three of them. Two could not be identified.

The next day, my current colleagues – a few of whom are sitting in this hall now – arrived from Moscow. Five people came, along with Natasha Estemirova. We met by chance. I spent a whole day driving them around victims’ homes, and to the hospital where many of them had been admitted, and to visit relatives of the dead. A curfew had been established, so they had to leave the village in the evening. But Natasha stayed and finished the work they had started.

Then, following the ‘mopping up operation,’ eight young people were arrested. I told my colleagues about this too, gave them the names of those who had been taken and described the circumstances of their abduction. I knew where they were. After Memorial had done the necessary work, questions were sent to the prosecutor’s office, and the media worldwide published reports about the case.

Most of the people were released after two or three weeks. In ones and twos, they were dumped in different locations in the Gudermes and Kurchaloi regions. Seven people were released. An eighth man remains unfound, though another person was released instead of him.

We made an application to the European Court of Human Rights about the eighth missing man, and won the case. His wife received compensation. But so far there has been no investigation. The body has not even been found. I watched my future colleagues work, they offered me a job, and since then I have worked at Memorial.

On 15 July 2009, Estemirova was killed. The then-president of Russia, Dmitry Anatolevich Medvedev, took the investigation of this crime under his personal control. All he did was send a message of condolence. He is still in charge of the investigation, which is suspended. Of course, if the case had been removed from his control, it would have been investigated long ago and the crime solved. Our country has investigators who are able to solve crimes, who are professionals – if they are not hindered from working, of course.

Since 2011, I have been working as the head of the Memorial office in the city of Grozny. In total I have been working for the organisation for seventeen years. And if over the years we have managed to save even one person – and I know of many more than that – we have not laboured in vain.

All these years, I have devoted little time to my family. As the only working person in a family of six, all I could provide for them was subsistence. Of course, like another famous person who calls himself ‘a human rights activist’ (in quotes) I could register all my relatives at work and receive salaries for them. Or, like another ‘human rights activist’ I could sell information to the relatives of abducted people at a high price and live comfortably. But that would have meant forgetting about honour, conscience and, especially, about God, about Islam. I’m sure that my relatives, my children and my comrades understand me correctly. 


As I said before, I was unlawfully detained on 9 January.

At 9am a package of drugs was planted in my car.

This was done by two 'rapid response group' (GBR) officers half my age. A third officer stood by, completely indifferent.  He was right there, and he acted dishonourably.

Unfortunately, I still don’t know the name of those officers, but it’s just a matter of time.  People will find out the names of those scoundrels sooner or later.

On that particular morning, officers were waiting for me along all routes out of the village. The ones who were stood at the exit from Kurchaloi to Maitrup just got lucky.  They probably got a promotion or some kind of commendation, at least, for such a stellar operation.

I’ll be sure to find out their names and tell all their friends, relatives and the people from their village. Let’s see how proud they are of their hero-friends! I actually thought that real tough guys join the police.  It turns out that they’re scoundrels, too.

When I was taken to the Kurchaloi Police Station, it became clear who it was that was behind the crime – Deni Dzhabrailov, head of criminal investigations.  In his address to the court, my lawyer said he had a decent career, but I doubt it.  It’s more lucrative to climb the ladder through crime.  They say thieves live well, but not for long.

The next ones in on it were State Traffic Safety Inspectorate (GIBDD) officers Khussein Khutaev, Alikhan Garaev and Magomed Danchaev.  Khutaev ‘spotted’ the package in the car and called the special investigative group out straight away. The package was really nothing out of the ordinary.  But, for some reason, he found this particular one ‘suspicious’, as it might contain drugs.  Naturally, he followed his instructions – to the letter. He probably got a promotion soon after that.  He was a junior lieutenant at the time, very low in the chain of command… And now he’s the head of the regional GIBDD! Garaev gave testimony there, in court, and everyone listened…

Later in the proceedings came Detective Andrei Manzhikov and investigator Azret Muratov; they were seconded officers who had become accessories to the crime.  I don’t understand why they would do this.  They could have avoided taking part and gone home.  Clearly, cashing in meant more to them than an officer’s honour.

The next party to appear in this case was Emi Magomed, from my village.  He fabricated all the evidence, arrogantly and cynically lying under questioning in court – just like all 60 officers of the police department, for that matter.  He was helped along by two former (or serving?) police officers – official witnesses Mak-Magomed Takalashev and Bislan Tasuev.  Tasuev is a former police officer and was fired either before or after this happened, while Takalashev was a trainee policeman at the time. Magomadov made a lot of rookie mistakes: he tried to forge my signatures and bang out a report…

Anyone who knows our history, the history of the Chechen people, will know that on 31 July 1937, over the course of a few days on the basis of just such reports 14 thousand Chechens were arrested.  Over the following month, it came to 18,000 in total, the majority of whom were shot dead or died in the camps.  Among them was the son and grandson of Bamatgirey Mitaev, if you know who that is (N.B. a disciple of the Sufi Sheikh Kunta-haji Kishiev).  Neither of them was to return.

Later on in the case, the investigator Nurid Salamov appeared.  He outdid everyone and fabricated this case in the course of 25 days.  That said, he made an awful lot of mistakes through incompetence.  He’s completely unqualified, and I just don’t know why he is being kept on the job.  It’s probably because he’s the protégé of a high-ranking official. He likes talking about it.

And then there is the commander of the GBR and his two colleagues. If you remember, in my testimony I told how they staged torture, wrapped my head in scotch tape, pulled out my hair and submitted this as material evidence for their case.

Then the case was moved from the Kurchaloi district police department to the republic-level Investigative Committee. What investigator Salamov fabricated in 25 days, the special investigator, Khadukaev Ibragim, improved on over four months. He was very proud to be assigned this case. He passed all this dirt to the prosecutor, justifying the confidence placed in him. We have seen what his ‘investigative experiment’ is worth.

Next, the state prosecutor got involved. You don’t need to have a law degree to understand the absurdity of the charges. Any first-year student would refuse to recognise it as a criminal case. Our state prosecutors not only did not refuse to do so, they took it to court, poured dirt on me, and spent eight months trying to smear me with it. It turns out that the ultimate truth consists of an innumerable number of testimonies by law enforcement officers which are quite lacking in substance.

The masterpiece was the main witness for the prosecution, Amadi Baskhanov. Suleimanov, who presented this witness to the investigators at the Kurchaloi district police station, gave testimony three times. The first time was at the Kurchaloi district police station, a few days after I was detained. There he said that Baskhanov arrived at the Criminal Investigation Department in Grozny, where he worked, at 16:10. He said that he then met with operatives from Kurchaloi district at the same location and introduced the witness, Baskhanov, to them (the testimony is in the case file). The second time, he gave his testimony to Investigator Khadukaev and asked that his first testimony be invalidated. According to the new testimony, he met Baskhanov closer to 18:00, and then met with the police operatives at the market in Grozny, and not at the station. The testimony he gave at the trial, you'll remember, was completely incomprehensible.

I would never have imagined that the prosecution would go so far as to bring to court a witness pumped up on drugs – that is, Baskhanov – or, what’s more, that the judge would not put a stop to such a disgraceful trick. I was shocked: he was showing withdrawal symptoms right there in the courtroom. That kind of thing could only happen here. This case is being watched by colleagues from all over Europe and I consider it a disgrace. And yet they accuse human rights activists of an absence of patriotism!

The state prosecutors forgot about my existence for the duration of the entire case and were busy in a tug of war with my lawyers. For them this was a kind of gambling venture. They didn’t care that they were deciding the fate of a man who could be one of their fathers. Over the past five years, this is the sixth such trial I’ve attended. At five of them I was a member of the public; for the sixth I am the one behind bars. At two of the trials, the previous one and mine, the charges were presented by the same state prosecutors. Prosecutor Baitaeva knows all too well that this is a fabrication. But that hasn’t stopped her from pursuing the charges. It was a similar situation in the previous case of Zhalaudi Geriev in Shali court. Probably her job is enough to make a sinner of her. A believer cannot lie, perjure herself or deny the truth, but for the entire duration of this process the prosecution denied the truth. I have wondered why people lie. I see only two reasons – to get some kind of benefit or out of fear. I don’t know what influenced the prosecution’s witnesses. In any case, both reasons are demeaning. 

Let’s return to Baskhanov, who supposedly saw me smoking. Other than him, no one ever saw me doing that. He very conveniently ran to tell the police about it. But there are people who at that same time were sitting with him in the cell at Sernovodskaya. Even on 9 January, as far as I know, he was under arrest. On the dates that he says he saw me, there was a warrant out for Baskhanov’s arrest. Later, on 14 December, he was identified in a prison, there’s a record of that in my case file.

Further, during the course of the trial when I tried to ask questions about religion, the prosecutors’ reaction was instantaneous. I was told, “This is not a sharia court.” I remembered the trial of Geriev, where the lawyer Musaev asked every witness whether they were prepared to swear to their testimony on the Koran. Everyone, other than the police officers from Kurchaloi district, agreed. It’s true that three witnesses for the defence, who had sworn on the Koran, returned to the court and asked to be questioned again. They wanted to change their testimony, since a day earlier they had been brought in to the Kurchaloi district police station. Clearly, in this case, the lessons of past mistakes were learned. In this trial more than sixty police officers gave testimony, and every one of them lied.

There are two hadiths of our prophet (note: that is, stories about the words and actions of the prophet Muhammed), peace be upon him. In the first, he says that liars have no place in his ummah (that is, the community of Muslims). All Muslims are unanimous in their belief that this hadith is authentic. In the second, it is said that only the unbelievers and those who deny the truth will remain in the eternal flame. Belief consists not only of words said out loud but also of deeds done by the body and convictions of the heart. If even one of these components is missing, the person’s belief is not accepted. Some people think that Islam is just a long beard and a shaved moustache. That it’s just the prophet’s Sunna (note: that is, the Muslim sacred stories that give examples from the life of the Islamic prophet). But there’s also the farz — the duties that, when they are not followed, make everything else pointless. It’s not enough to beat yourself on the chest and swear that you’re a Muslim. That is why no one who gave false testimony in this trial could not have been a Muslim. […]

Of all those who, either directly or indirectly, played a part in the fabrication of the case against me, only one respectable person has been found who fulfilled his duty honestly. 

The difference between a decent man and a scoundrel is that a decent man does the right thing, while the scoundrel does the what will be most beneficial to him.

Those who fabricated this case feel that they are justified in doing so, as though it were an order from above. There was no such order. There may have been a request.  An instruction, maybe. But there could have been no order given to carry out the crime. Even if there had been, no one would have been obligated to perpetrate a criminal act. Every one of you could have refused to do it. But instead, all of you mobilised efforts to comply with this instruction, anticipating it would pay rich dividends. Several of you have already been promoted. Yet each and every one of you must be held accountable for your actions.

15-20 years ago, no one would have believed that in the Caucasus, and even less so in our republic, such a process would ever occur. Today, it has become the norm. I’m afraid to even imagine what things will look like 20 years from now, if we continue to be guided by these principles.  

I am under no illusions about the sentence. There will of course be a guilty verdict and conviction.  In recent years in our republic, as well as throughout the country as a whole, acquittals are practically unheard of. This speaks to the fact that the prosecutor’s office has full control over the country’s justice system. If the prosecutor’s office decides to bring a case to trial before the courts, it means a conviction is guaranteed.

On 19th May 2010 at a meeting of the Russian Presidential Council for Promotion of the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, during the presidential term of Dmitry Medvedev, the human rights ombudsman Ella Aleksandrovna Pamifilova stated in a speech: “In certain North Caucasus republics – I won’t name them now as you know full well which ones I am referring to – the court system has completely discredited itself. Something needs to be done about this. People shouldn’t feel helpless or that they have no recourse to justice in the face of abuses and lawlessness.” 

This is a pressing issue we face today. I shall cite the answer given by Dmitry Anatolevich: “You said that the courts have completely discredited themselves. I am categorically against this statement, since it implies a breakdown of the justice system and an utter contempt for the courts. Sure, within the court system there may well be people who take bribes, people who are afraid of making decisions. But if all we ever do is speak about how they’ve discredited themselves…Where does one go from there? Does the answer lie in doing away with the current court system and instating a new one? That was precisely what happened in 1917. In this regard I would like to request that everyone be as prudent as possible. Whether people like it or not, the courts are ours and we are obliged to abide by their decisions.”

Looking back on history, who can recall how judgments were handed down in the 1930s by the Special Council of the NKVD? It would appear that since then no reform of the judicial system has taken place. This is utterly deplorable.  

Whatever we may want, we must uphold the decision of a court. All I can do is rely on God. If it is God’s will that I should remain behind bars, then I will do so with humility. But Allah commands us to stand up against injustice. Therefore we will fight until the end and not give up until there is full acknowledgement of my innocence and the real offenders are punished.  By way of a closing remark, I merely ask, how many more human rights defenders will be murdered and put behind bars? How much longer must we wait before the authorities finally start paying attention to this issue? I would like to appeal to my colleagues in European countries with the following request: do all you can to ensure the perpetrators of this crime, those who organised and carried it out, are subjected to international law or other sanctions. The judiciary in our country is refusing to investigate this crime, all my appeals to the Investigative Committee have been rejected. 

If it weren’t for these people who carry out the will of higher-ranking bureaucrats in our country, who are willing to sell their own grandmother, to commit any offence in order to keep their job and their career, then crimes of this nature would be much rarer. 

To conclude…I am a Muslim. That is the truth. I have no intention of proving it to anyone. As we know, those who fabricated this crime and for the last eight months have given false testimony, doing all they can to ensure I stay behind bars, these people consider themselves Muslims. Not one of them is interested in establishing the truth. I’m ashamed to see how people, who call themselves Muslims, could sink so low.

Thank you.

Translated by Anna Bowles, Julie Hersh, Lindsay Munford, Mercedes Malcomson, Nathalie Wilson and Nina DePalma