Chechnyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov at the Kremlin in Moscow. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

CHECHNYA IS a graveyard of human rights and basic liberties. Twice in the 1990s, Russia launched grisly military campaigns to put down separatist rebellions. Today, Ramzan Kadyrov, a ruthless chieftain, controls the republic with backing from President Vladimir Putin. In the past decade, a human rights defender was murdered, a journalist who wrote of abuses was killed in Moscow, and gay men in Chechnya have been rounded up, tortured and targeted for extrajudicial killings.

This grim legacy is reason enough to be worried about the fate of Oyub Titiev, the director in Chechnya for Memorial Human Rights Center, the Moscow-based human rights organization. Mr. Titiev took over after the previous director, Natalia Estemirova, was kidnapped and murdered in Chechnya on July 15, 2009. Mr. Titiev pushed the organization to remain in Chechnya, despite the dangers, as a way to honor her memory. He led a team that has reported disappearances, torture and punitive house burnings.

On Jan. 9, he was detained in Chechnya on charges of drug possession. The authorities in Chechnya commonly plant drugs on people as a pretext to arrest them. Mr. Titiev was stopped by police and his car was searched, then he was taken to a police station. Officers said they found a bag containing about 180 grams of marijuana in the car. On Jan. 11, a local court remanded him to prison for two months.

The intent of this arrest appears to be to force the human rights group out of Chechnya. Mr. Kadyrov detests the human rights monitors and journalists who bring to public attention his rule by violence and fear. One of the bravest of the journalists to expose Chechen abuse was Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed in the elevator of her Moscow apartment block on Oct. 7, 2006, when she was about to file a long story about torture as practiced by Chechen security forces. Another critic was Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader and onetime deputy prime minister of Russia, gunned down on a bridge within sight of the Kremlin walls on Feb. 27, 2015. Five Chechen men were convicted of carrying out the Nemtsov murder, but in neither the Nemtsov nor Politkovskaya case was the person who ordered the killings ever identified or prosecuted. More recently, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta in Moscow exposed a campaign of torture and violence against gay men in Chechnya, yet another example of Mr. Kadyrov's intolerant and coercive rule.

The responsibility for this repression goes back to the man in the Kremlin. Mr. Putin has indulged Mr. Kadyrov, calculating cynically that a bloody fist on his behalf is better than one raised against him. Mr. Putin also shares Mr. Kadyrov's disdain for journalists and human rights workers who expose the misrule of autocrats. The result is that Chechnya is run as a little dictatorship with permission from Moscow. People such as Mr. Titiev are the world's last eyes and ears on this landscape of misery. He must be released unharmed to continue the work of Estemirova, Politkovskaya and Nemtsov.