Dagestan authorities try to close independent weekly

New York, June 17, 2009–Authorities in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan should immediately halt efforts to shut the Makhachkala-based independent weekly Chernovik and should drop extremism charges against editor Nadira Isayeva and four reporters, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On Monday, the local branch of Russia’s state media regulator Rossvyazkomnadzor filed a lawsuit against Chernovik in Dagestan’s Supreme Court, demanding that the weekly be closed for allegedly carrying “extremist” statements. The Rossvyazkomnadzor’s lawsuit comes on top of an ongoing criminal case alleging Isayeva and four staffers engaged in extremism and incitement of hatred.


According to local press reports, Rossvyazkomnadzor said articles published in 2008 incited hatred of law enforcement agencies in the region. A first court hearing on the Rossvyazkomnadzor’s claim is scheduled for Thursday; no court date has yet been scheduled in the criminal case.


Chernovik is often critical of regional police and the Federal Security Service operating in the region. Isayeva and her colleagues have contended that antiterrorist operations carried out by the two agencies had actually fueled the rise of militant Islam in the region.


“The attempt to silence one of the few remaining independent voices in Russia’s turbulent North Caucasus region is deeply disturbing,” said Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Using accusations of extremism and incitement to hatred in politicized lawsuits has become a favored tactic of repression. The Dagestan authorities must drop all suits against Nadira Isayeva and her colleagues at Chernovik immediately.”


Isayeva told CPJ that regional law enforcement officials, whom she and her colleagues continue to criticize, want to shutter her paper by any means. Rossvyazkomnadzor regulators “filed this claim as an alternative option in case they won’t be able to convict us in a criminal court,” Isayeva said.


In July 2008, regional prosecutors opened an investigation into alleged extremism and incitement of hatred toward police as a social group. State investigators who looked into Chernovik‘s content concluded that the paper carries “statements directed at the formation and maintenance of a negative social stereotype of representatives of the law enforcement structures.” A criminal case within the broad framework of the extremism law was then opened against Isayeva and four of her colleagues.

According to the independent Moscow-based organization Sova, which monitors acts of nationalism and xenophobia in Russia, Chernovik‘s publications do not contain any traits of extremism or calls to violence.