The crisis fund – human rights activist was released

In March, Oyub Titiev from Memorial was sentenced to four years in a prison colony settlement on the basis of a politically motivated case and falsified evidence. Through The Norwegian Helsinki Committee's Crisis Fund Wikborg Rein has covered some of the expenditures for three lawyers which have fought a tireless battle against the corrupt legal system and the dangerous working conditions in Chechenya. Now, finally, Titiev has been released.

Ever since Oyub was arrested in January last year we have worked for him to be released. We are proud to have supported him with legal assistance with funds from our crisis fund, says Bjørn Engesland, general secretary in The Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Titev is one of few active human rights activists in Chechenya, Russia's afflicted North Caucasus. Several of his colleagues who work for human rights in the area have been brought to silence, and his predecessor was killed for the same kind of work.

The level of danger in the area has made it necessary for the lawyers to commute in order to visit Titiev in jail. To defend such a case is dangerous as well, and one of the cars which Titiev's Chechen lawyer used, was set on fire during the early phases of the case.

– Titiev is an eminent, brave activist who fights for human rights and safety for all Chechens. His work is greatly respected both from the population and from human rights activists, locally as well as internationally. Wikborg Rein's support to the crisis fund is essential for us in order to help unlawfully imprisoned human rights defenders such as Titiev, says Engesland.

A prerequisite for peace

The release is also the result of a world-wide campaign where state leaders such as France's president Emanuel Macron is engaged, as well as FIFA who has expressed their concern about Titiev's imprisonment.

– Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is a prerequisite in order to create peaceful and including communities, therefore this work is important and engages a lot of people, says Engesland.

Even though human rights defenders are being persecuted in many European countries, there are still courageous people who fight for democracy. Some of them are Nobel Prize candidates; others are local lawyers or journalists who few know about abroad.

According to the Courts Act lawyers are ethically obliged to "promote justice and prevent injustice", and the same applies where human rights are violated.

– They are our colleagues, and it is our job to support them. Our opinion is that it is important that the state ensures access to legal protection for all, says Engesland.

In need of good institutions

Over the past 70 years, the focus in large parts of Europe has been to build societies on the basis of peace, democracy and respect for human rights. However, developments in many countries has gone in the opposite direction during the last couple of years. The Crisis Fund which Wikborg Rein supports shall on short notice contribute to provide legal and medical assistance. The fund shall contribute so that the Helsinki Committee's experts immediately can move out to map infringements when armed conflict, mass demonstrations or other crisis break out. Good documentation is very important in order to counteract misinformation and propaganda, and in order to improve the foundation of legal settlements.

– It was a great pleasure to receive the good news about Oyub Titiev. Now it is even more important than ever to build well run, responsible and inclusive institutions at all levels. When the legal system of a country functions poorly, this affects people's legal protection. In addition, weak institutions make it more difficult to stop corruption, bribery and tax evasion, says Finn Bjørnstad.

Oyub Titiev / Foto: Yelena Afonina/TASS