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October 2, 2019 - Updated on October 3, 2019

Russia: Heavy-handed raid on Dagestani newspaper

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns today’s raid by dozens of armed and masked police officers on Chernovik, an independent newspaper in Makhatchkala, the capital of the Caucasian republic of Dagestan, in southern Russia.

The show of force began at around 10 a.m., when the police stormed into Chernovik’s headquarters, grabbed the only two journalists present and locked them in an office, and then proceeded to carry out a search without waiting for the newspaper’s lawyer or a representative of its management.

When Gadzhimurad Sagitov, the editor of another independent newspaper, Novoye Delo, quickly arrived on the scene, the police told him they would smash his mobile phone if he tried to film the search.

The search was carried out as part of the still ongoing investigation into Abdulmumin Gadzhiev, a Chernovik journalist held since mid-June. Because of the absence of any evidence for the initial charge of “funding terrorism,” it was changed to “inciting” the funding of terrorism.

But the prospects of even this weaker charge were dealt a major blow when police experts concluded in a report submitted to investigators on 30 September that the 2013 interview previously cited as evidence contained no evidence to support it.

“Everything indicates that the security services are going all out to rescue an investigation whose last prop had just collapsed,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“This heavy-handed raid has seriously compromised the confidentiality of Chernovik’s sources and its ability to successfully conduct sensitive investigations. It also sends a very clear chilling message to all the media, which have rallied with unusual energy in support of Abdulmumin Gadzhiev. The local and federal authorities must immediately announce an end to this unacceptable witchhunt.”

One of Dagestan’s most popular newspapers, Chernovik is a frequent target of harassment. It was charged with colluding with terrorism for three years, until 2011, when it was finally acquitted. 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.