Dagestan court acquits Chernovik journalists

New York, May 19, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes today’s court ruling in the southern republic of Dagestan, which acquitted Editor Nadira Isayeva and four reporters with the Makhachkala-based independent weekly Chernovik of long-standing, politicized extremism charges

At a final court hearing today, Judge Sharapudin Gadzhiyev declared Isayeva and her colleagues Biyakay Magomedov, Artur Mamayev, Magomed Magomedov, and Timur Mustafayev not guilty of “inciting hatred” and “demeaning the honor of law enforcement officials as a social group”–charges included under the twice-amended anti-extremism legislation that Russian authorities have selectively applied against critics.

Dagestan prosecutors filed charges against Isayeva and her colleagues after Chernovik published in 2008 a series of articles critical of regional police and the Federal Security Service (FSB). In the articles, Isayeva and her colleagues contended that heavy-handed anti-terrorism operations, carried out by the two agencies in Dagestan, have fueled the rise of militant Islam in the region.

“We welcome today’s acquittal by the Makhachkala court and congratulate our colleagues with the weekly Chernovik on this important, hard-earned victory,” CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “This is a rare respite for the media in a region where journalists are often subject to physical violence, even murder in retaliation for their work.”

Speaking to CPJ after today’s court hearing, Isayeva said she saw the case against her and her colleagues as “a test for the institution of press freedom” in Dagestan. Chernovik‘s articles had been subjected to numerous government expert analyses on linguistic and psychological over the past three years, in an attempt to determine whether they contained “calls to extremism.”

Had Chernovik‘s journalists been convicted, the four reporters would have faced up to two years in prison while Isayeva would have been subject to a term of up to five years.

In November, in recognition of Isayeva’s courage, CPJ awarded her an International Press Freedom Award.