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Russian court jails top Chechen rights activist for 4 years

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Moscow (AFP)

A Russian court on Monday sentenced a top Chechen rights activist to four years in a penal colony after a drugs trial that has drawn condemnation from international groups.

Oyub Titiyev, head of the Chechnya branch of rights group Memorial, was arrested at the start of last year on what supporters said were trumped-up charges.

The 61-year-old was in court in Chechnya's Shali district for a sentencing that ran to over nine hours, images and statements from Memorial to media showed.

The trial has been ongoing since last summer.

Titiyev's lawyers said the case was connected to his investigations into the secretive prison system of a republic that is notorious for rights abuses.

Prosecutors had called for a sentence of four years and a fine of 100,000 rubles ($1,500, 1,350 euros).

Observers say drug charges have been used repeatedly in the past to silence critical journalists and rights workers in the region.

In a statement last week, Amnesty International called for Titiyev to be "released immediately and unconditionally".

"Amnesty International believes Oyub Titiyev is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for his work for the victims of human rights in Chechnya," the rights group said.

Memorial is the last rights organisation to retain a visible presence in Chechnya while remaining critical of local leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

The group said its offices in the neighbouring Ingushetia republic were torched following Titiyev's arrest and colleagues in Dagestan, another Caucasus republic, were attacked.

The group speaks out about human rights violations in Russia and has accused the Chechen leader of overseeing a "totalitarian" regime that uses kidnappings and torture.

Titiyev's predecessor as the regional leader of Memorial, Natalya Estemirova, was kidnapped and killed in 2009. The rights group said the killers were acting on the orders of local authorities.

The Moscow court hearing came as a Council of Europe committee rebuked Russia for failing to halt the police torture of detainees in Chechnya.

A delegation of the council's anti-torture committee said that torture of detainees in Chechnya remained "a deep-rooted problem".

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