Independent weekly editor charged with extremism in Dagestan

New York, August 7, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the decision of regional authorities in Dagestan to open a criminal case against Nadira Isayeva, editor-in-chief of an independent weekly, after the newspaper quoted a former guerilla leader in an article. According to news Web site Lenta, regional prosecutors in Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala, charged Isayeva with making public calls to extremism and incitement of hatred; if convicted, she faces up to eight years in prison.

According to a press release by the prosecutor-general’s office, the article published in Chernovik “depicts disbanded terrorist groups in Dagestan as a well-organized political power, presents terrorists as heroes, and encourages readers to believe in the necessity of violent change of the constitutional regime in Russia.” Isayeva told CPJ that regional prosecutors didn’t notify her of the criminal case and that she learned about it from news reports. The article, “Terrorists Number One,” was published in July.

In the quoted text, guerilla leader Rappani Khalilov–who fought against federal forces during the Second Chechen War both in Dagestan and Chechnya–accused regional authorities of spreading corruption, robbing his fellow countrymen, and enslaving themselves to the Kremlin. Khalilov was killed in a shootout with federal troops in Dagestan in September 2007, according to the Moscow-based news Web site Kavkazsky Uzel.

Isayeva said regional authorities retaliated after the newspaper published a series of articles that questioned the work of regional police and the federal security service; the articles specifically argued that “special operations” carried by the two agencies had contributed to the rise in violence and militant Islam in the region.

“It’s not a crime for a journalist to quote a guerilla leader,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “We call on the authorities to drop these charges and allow our colleague Nadira Isayeva work without fear of retaliation.”

Isayeva said that a few days after the newspaper quoted Khalilov, regional prosecutor Igor Tkachev issued a warning that the paper had violated anti-extremism legislation. The newspaper contested the warning in a regional court on July 18, but court hearing was never scheduled.

Isayeva said she will challenge the indictment. According to the government’s statement, Dagestan prosecutors asked linguistic experts with the Krasnodar regional police to examine the article, and the experts confirmed it contained elements of extremism.

Aleksandr Verkhovsky, director of the independent Moscow-based center Sova, which monitors nationalism and xenophobia, told CPJ that Chernovik did not violate Russian legislation. “There is no such law in Russia that prohibits quoting extremist leaders, and the quote–as well as the entire article–contains no calls to extremism, does not give a positive image to terrorists, nor does it incite any kind of hatred,” Verkhovsky told CPJ. He said many of Chernovik‘s articles have been critical of police and security service actions in Dagestan.

Located in the volatile North Caucasus, the multiethnic and predominantly Muslim republic of Dagestan has been exposed to violence due to its proximity to Chechnya. With the end of the violent conflict in Chechnya, disbanded rebel groups moved to the neighboring regions–Dagestan and Ingushetia–where they have been challenging regional authorities and federal troops. Under Putin’s presidency, authorities successfully restricted Russian and international correspondents’ travel to the North Caucasus. Press freedom in Russia was further restricted in July 2007 when Putin signed a package of amendments that expanded the definition of extremism to include public discussion of such activity, and give law enforcement officials broad authority to suspend media outlets that do not comply with the new restrictions.