MOSCOW: A leading Russian rights activist went on trial in Chechnya on Monday, charged with drug possession in a case that has sparked concern from Western officials and rights groups.
Oyub Titiyev, 60, heads a branch of Russia's top rights group Memorial, the last such body to remain active in the North Caucasus region ruled with an iron fist by strongman Ramzan Kadyrov since 2007.
Monday's initial district court hearing in Chechnya set the date for Titiyev's first full hearing on July 18. It also extended his period in custody, said Alexander Cherkasov, chairman of the board of Memorial.
Two top activists were detained on Monday in Moscow while protesting against Titiyev's prosecution, Cherkasov told AFP.
Oleg Orlov, a senior member of Memorial, and Svetlana Gannushkina, who heads an NGO helping refugees and migrants, were detained on a central Moscow square and taken to a police station minutes after unfurling posters saying "Free Oyub Titiyev," Cherkasov said.
Traffic police in Chechnya detained Titiyev in January after stopping his car and allegedly finding a package of drugs.
Drug charges have been used repeatedly in the past to silence critical journalists and rights workers in the region.
Chechnya's main city of Grozny was controversially used as a training base for the Egypt team during the World Cup hosted by Russia.
After being informed by Memorial, FIFA expressed concern over Titiyev's case and called for him to have a fair trial.
Human Rights Watch has called Titiyev's prosecution an attempt to "fraudulently frame a critic."
Memorial speaks out about human rights violations in Russia and has accused Kadyrov of overseeing a "totalitarian" regime that uses kidnappings and torture.
Titiyev's predecessor at Memorial, Natalia Estemirova, was kidnapped and murdered in 2009.
Memorial's offices in Chechnya and the neighbouring Muslim republic of Ingushetia were torched following Titiyev's arrest.