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Rights activist gets 4-year sentence in Russia's Chechnya

A court in Russia's province of Chechnya has sentenced a prominent rights activist to four years in prison on drug charges widely seen as an effort by the authorities to stifle a critical voice.

Oyub Titiyev has been in custody since his arrest in January 2018 on drug possession charges in what has been largely perceived as a vendetta against a rare critic of the Chechen government.

Titiyev was the head of the Chechen office of prominent rights group Memorial and played a major role in exposing extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture perpetrated by security forces in Chechnya.

Oyub Titiev, the head of a Chechnya branch of the prominent human rights group Memorial, stands behind bars in court before a hearing in Shali, Russia, Monday, March 18, 2019. Oyub Titiyev was detained in January 2018 and charged with drug possession in what has been largely perceived as a vendetta against this rare critic of the Chechen government. The court is due to issue its verdict Monday. (AP PhotoMusa Sadulayev)

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who previously dismissed rights activists as liars and traitors, publicly called the 61-year-old Titiyev a "junkie." Titiyev's supporters say the case aims not only to silence the activist, who is known as a devout Muslim, but also discredit him in the eyes of the community.

Oyub Titiev, the head of a Chechnya branch of the prominent human rights group Memorial, stands behind bars in court before a hearing in Shali, Russia, Monday, March 18, 2019. Oyub Titiyev was detained in January 2018 and charged with drug possession in what has been largely perceived as a vendetta against this rare critic of the Chechen government. The court is due to issue its verdict Monday. (AP PhotoMusa Sadulayev)

Oyub Titiev, the head of a Chechnya branch of the prominent human rights group Memorial, listens to his lawyer Pyotr Zaikin, right, standing behind bars in court before a hearing in Shali, Russia, Monday, March 18, 2019. Oyub Titiyev was detained in January 2018 and charged with drug possession in what has been largely perceived as a vendetta against this rare critic of the Chechen government. The court is due to issue its verdict Monday. (AP PhotoMusa Sadulayev)

People gather in front of the court building before a hearing on Oyub Titiev, the head of a Chechnya branch of the prominent human rights group Memorial, in Shali, Russia, Monday, March 18, 2019. Oyub Titiyev was detained in January 2018 and charged with drug possession in what has been largely perceived as a vendetta against this rare critic of the Chechen government. The court is due to issue its verdict Monday. (AP PhotoMusa Sadulayev)

In this Sunday, March 17, 2019, photo, Zharadat Titiyeva, left, Khava Zakriyeva, center, and Yakub Titiyev look through the family pictures that feature their sibling, jailed activist Oyub Titiyev, at their family home in Kurchaloy, Chechnya, Russia. A court in Russia's Chechnya is due to issue its verdict Monday, March 18 in the case of the prominent rights activist. (AP PhotoMusa Sadulayev)

In this Sunday, March 17, 2019, photo, Yakub Titiyev, elder brother of jailed activist Oyub Titiyev, speaks to the Associated Press at their family home in Kurchaloy, Chechnya, Russia. A court in Russia's Chechnya is due to issue its verdict Monday, March 18 in the case of the prominent rights activist. (AP PhotoMusa Sadulayev)