MOSCOW — Authorities in the Russian region of Chechnya are threatening the family of a prominent rights advocate who was detained earlier this week, activists said Thursday.
Authorities are investigating Oyub Titiyev, chief of the local branch of the rights group Memorial, for drug possession, saying marijuana was found in his car after he was stopped by police.
Memorial has described Titiyev’s arrest as an attempt to muffle a rare critic of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
The Kadyrov family has been running Chechnya since the early 2000s, brutally cracking down on any discontent. Most of Kadyrov’s critics have been pushed out of the region or have been killed.
One of the last remaining rights advocates active in Chechnya, Titiyev has been leading Memorial in the capital Grozny since 2010 after his colleague Natalya Estemirova was kidnapped and killed. Her death remains unsolved.
Memorial has been a source for reports of enforced disappearances, torture and collective punishment perpetrated in Chechnya under Kadyrov. Local authorities have dismissed Memorial as enemies, paid for by the West to smear the local government.
In a statement, Memorial said Chechen police officers on Wednesday stormed into the house of Titiyev’s family, made threats and forced them out. Titiyev’s son and brother have also been ordered to go present themselves to police.
Memorial’s Oleg Orlov said police are trying to use the activist’s family to pressure him to confess. Amnesty International issued a statement on Thursday calling him a prisoner of conscience.
Chechen authorities have denied charges that Titiyev is being held on account of his activities.
In comments to the Interfax news agency, Kadyrov’s spokesman Ilvi Karimov dismissed the suggestion as “absolutely unfounded” and said authorities are committed to conducting an impartial probe.