Dagestani journalist’s detention extended, despite baseless charges

Update: A court extended Abdulmumin Gadzhiev’s provisional detention again on 31 December, this time until 13 March. His lawyer has announced that he is referring Gadzhiev’s "arbitrary detention" to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for the release of Abdulmumin Gadzhiev, a newspaper journalist in the Caucasian republic of Dagestan, in southern Russia, whose detention has just been extended for another two months although the charges against him are baseless.

A court in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital, issued an order on 10 September for Gadzhiev to be held for two more months, until 13 November, at the request of prosecutors, who say they need more time to question witnesses and to investigate his activities on social networks.

The head of the religious affairs section at the independent Makhachkala-based weekly Chernovik, Gadzhiev was arrested on 14 June for alleged involvement in funding terrorism. He was initially accused of having organized fund-raising for Islamic State (ISIS) on Vkontakte, Russia’s Facebook equivalent, since 2011 and of funnelling money to “charities,” some of which were subsequently declared to be terrorist organizations.

Since then, the charges have been changed. He is now accused in connection with a 2013 interview with Abu Umar Sasitlinsky, then owner of a charity called Ansar that was banned in late 2014.  The change suggests that prosecutors are struggling for evidence against Gadzhiev especially as their case currently rests on little more than a statement extracted under torture from Kamel Tambiev, their only witness. Gadzhiev is nonetheless currently facing a life sentence.

“We condemn the inconsistency and lack of any basis to the charges against Abdulmumin Gadzhiev,” RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk said. “By extending his provisional detention despite the glaring absence of real evidence, the authorities are showing that they are bent on keeping him in prison at all costs and on creating a climate of insecurity for the entire media profession.”

Ever since his arrest, Gadzhiev has accused the authorities of fabricating all the charges brought against him. His lawyers have repeatedly complained about the restrictions placed on visits, by both themselves and his family, and have unsuccessfully requested his transfer from prison to house arrest.

His colleagues and readers have repeatedly tried to organize protests and pickets to demand his release but the Russian justice minister has so far refused permission more than 200 times.

Human rights defenders, lawyers and fellow journalists held a press conference in Moscow on 28 August to express their concern about the case, saying the persecution of Gadzhiev was helping to create a dangerous climate for all journalists. The Russian human rights NGO Memorial has added him to its list of prisoners of conscience.

Everything indicates that the charges against Gadzhiev are a way to put pressure on Chernovik, one of Dagestan’s most popular independent newspapers and a frequent target of harassment. It was charged with colluding with terrorism for three years, until 2011, when the charges were finally dropped. Its founder, Khadzhimurad Kamalov, was gunned down a few months later.

Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 04.02.2020