Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the release of Abdulmumin Gadzhiev, a newspaper journalist whose pre-trial detention on a trumped-up charge of funding terrorism was ordered yesterday by a court in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, an autonomous southern Russian republic that neighbours Chechnya.
As two journalists were being released in quick succession in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Gadzhiev was arrested on 14 June at his home – where police seized computer equipment and other electronic devices – and was then detained for an initial two-month period under yesterday’s court order.
The head of the religious affairs section at the independent Makhachkala-based weekly Chernovik, Gadzhiev and ten other people are facing up to 20 years in prison on charges of funding terrorism. The police claim that he sent money to “charities” suspected of financing Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra. Gadzhiev denies sending them any money.
The case seems to be based above all on the testimony of a witness, Kemal Tambiev, who Gadzhiev says he does not know, who retracted his initial statement and whose face was badly bruised when he appeared in court. Tambiev later said he had not read the statement before signing it and that physical pressure was used to get him to testify against Gadzhiev.
“You cannot imprison a journalist on the basis of testimony extracted under torture,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “If the police are unable to produce any convincing evidence against Abdulmumin Gadzhiev, they must free him at once and drop all proceedings against him.”
After initially tolerating the presence of reporters, the court ordered them removed for the final part of yesterday’s court hearing. Dozens of journalists repeatedly gathered outside the court to demand Gadzhiev’s release. They all say that his detention poses a major threat to media independence in Dagestan.
One of Dagestan’s most popular newspapers, Chernovik is accustomed to being harassed. After being accused of colluding with terrorism for three years, it was finally acquitted in 2011. 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.