Chechen court to hear reporter’s appeal of conviction on retaliatory charges

New York, November 11, 2016–Chechen authorities should drop all charges against Zhalaudi Geriyev, a contributor to the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel, and unconditionally release the journalist, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The Chechen Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Geriyev’s appeal on November 15, according to his editor.

Police detained Geriyev on April 16, while he was traveling to Chechnya’s capital, Grozny. The Shali District Court on September 5 sentenced the journalist to three years in prison on charges of possessing drugs, according to his employer. His colleagues and supporters say authorities fabricated the charges to retaliate for Geriyev’s journalism, his editor, Grigory Shvedov, told CPJ.

“We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Zhalaudi Geriyev, who has already spent seven months in jail on trumped-up charges in retaliation for his journalism,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Chechnya is one of the most dangerous regions to be a journalist, and Geriyev is one of the courageous few to live and report independently from the republic.”

Geriyev, who reported on human rights abuses and official corruption, was detained while on his way from Kurchaloi district to Grozny, where he planned to fly to Moscow for a media conference, Shvedov, Kavkazsky Uzel’s editor, told CPJ. Geriyev’s arrest came in the run-up to the September 18 parliamentary election in Russia, which coincided with the presidential vote in the Chechen republic.

Shvedov told CPJ on September 22 that Geriyev had complained to him prior to his arrest that he believed he was under surveillance and had been followed for several days while conducting interviews.

When officers took Geriyev off a bus headed to Grozny in April, they tied his hands with wire and tortured him by putting a plastic bag over his head and nearly suffocating him, according to his lawyer and testimony the journalist gave during his trial. He said police threatened him and questioned him about his work as a journalist.

The journalist was forced to confess to carrying and using marijuana; officers had planted 167 grams of the drug in his backpack, Geriyev said at the trial, according to Kavkazsky Uzel. At the September 5 hearing at Shali District Court, Geriyev retracted his written confession, saying it was made under duress. “I got a blow to the head and [was] shoved into a car. The bag with my ID, two telephones, and a laptop computer was taken away,” Geriyev was quoted as saying during the trial.

The journalist’s attorney, Alaudi Musayev, told Kavkazsky Uzel the indictment was “full of inaccuracies.” Shvedov told CPJ that the case marks a turning point in the Chechen authorities’ crackdown on free media. “This is the first case that was fully fabricated, and a reporter was charged with a crime formally unrelated to his journalistic activity. Until now, we have had cases of journalists [in Chechnya] who were prosecuted for being journalists. This sends a signal that the authorities are willing to take an extra step to silence independent voices,” he told CPJ.

According to Shvedov, Geriyev is being held in Chernokozovo Prison. The prison, which is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Grozny, is known for the torture and beatings of inmates, according to Human Rights Watch. Geriyev’s defense team appealed on September 9, according to Shvedov.