June 10, 2019 / 2:46 PM / 3 months ago

Russian court rules to free Chechen human rights advocate Oyub Titiev

ARGUN, Russia (Reuters) - Chechen human rights advocate Oyub Titiev was granted early release by a Russian court on Monday after being given a four-year penal colony sentence earlier this year, his lawyer and supporters said.

FILE PHOTO: Oyub Titiev, the head of human rights group Memorial in Chechnya, attends his verdict hearing at a court in the town of Shali, in Chechnya, Russia, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Said Tsarnayev

Titiev, who ran the Chechen office of the Memorial Human Rights Centre that reports on rights abuses in the region, was sentenced in March after the court found him guilty of possessing illegal drugs, a charge his supporters say was trumped up.

Titiev, 61, is expected to be released next week.

“The verdict will come into force in ten days,” Memorial tweeted after a judge read out the decision. The court hearing on his early release petition was held at the penal colony.

Titiev was arrested early last year. Under Russian law, a prisoner can ask for an early release if convicted under an offence qualifying as non-serious and if more than a third of jail term has been served, which Titiev has done, given time served before his sentencing.

Before his arrest, Titiev led a team that reported disappearances, torture, and punitive house burnings in Chechnya.

The majority Muslim republic of Chechnya is governed by Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Human rights workers accuse Kadyrov of widespread abuses in the region, allegations he denies.

Kadyrov’s supporters credit him with bringing relative calm and stability to a region dogged for years by a simmering insurgency following two wars between Moscow and separatists after the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union.

Kadyrov, who earlier supported Titiev’s arrest, welcomed the court decision about his release.

“If a court found it possible to release Titiev earlier, I am sure that all the circumstances were studied and an objective decision was made,” Kadyrov said in a statement.

Reporting by Said Tsarnayev; Writing by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry

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