Journalist Abdulmumin Gadzhiev is seen in detention in Makhachkala, in the Russian republic of Dagestan. He is facing up to 10 years in prison on extremism charges, and up to 20 years on terrorism charges. (Photo: Ruslan Alibekov)

Russian journalist Abdulmumin Gadzhiev: Jailed ‘without a single proof of his guilt’

Abdulmumin Gadzhiev, religion section editor of the independent newspaper Chernovik, has been in pre-trial detention in Makhachkala, in the Russian republic of Dagestan, since his June 14, 2019, arrest on terrorism charges, according to CPJ research. On March 27, 2020, authorities filed new charges against Gadzhiev, accusing him of participation in an extremist organization, as CPJ documented at the time. If convicted of that charge, Gadzhiev could face up to 10 years in prison under Russian law. If convicted of terrorism, he could get another 20 years, according to Russian law. On June 29, the Supreme Court of Dagestan prolonged the term of Gadzhiev’s arrest until September 13, according to news reports.

CPJ spoke to Gadzhiev’s wife, Dana Gadzhieva, and Chernovik’s chief editor Mairbek Agaev over the phone in mid-July. Both Gadzhieva and Agaev told CPJ that they believe the charges against the journalist are an attack on press freedom in Dagestan, a region in Russia’s North Caucasus. 

Their answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Dana Gadzhieva, Gadzhiev’s wife

How has your husband been since his arrest a year ago? 

While in jail, Abdulmumin has undergone a small surgical operation and now is taking antibiotics and vitamins. His mental state is good–he is in a positive mood as he knows that he is not guilty. As his public defender, I can visit him once a week. This status helps me a lot. Our children saw Abdulmumin in December.

[Editor’s note: A public defender is allowed to defend a suspect, meet with them in pre-trial detention, attend court hearings, but typically has no legal education or attorney certificates.]

As concerns Abdulmumin, he is reading documents on his case. Abdulmumin and his defense lawyers can come up with any arguments proving his innocence but the investigators insist on their charges. Judges have been replaced, but not the charges. Sometimes I have a feeling that nothing makes sense anymore. There is no evidence that Abdulmumin did something wrong. One document contradicts another, and there is no clarity or logics in them. I don’t believe that there would be a judge brave enough to say that [the case] is a nonsense and would set Abdulmumin free. 

There is no Islamic extremism or radicalism either in his articles or in his life. One fact says a lot–my husband’s co-inmates who are practicing Muslims do not consider him a good Muslim. They think he has very little to do with religion. He speaks about education, personal development and growth, and such topics. Abdulmumin is charged with terrorism but other inmates charged with terrorism do not even think he is a good Muslim, isn’t it funny? He never urged people to take radical stance but tried to direct people in the opposite direction. 

It is hard for me to understand why he is charged with these things he has nothing to do with. Why is he behind bars? This is the question Abdulmumin asks himself. He also asked his investigators but got no answer. I think the authorities seek to intimidate free press in Dagestan, including Chernovik

How has your family life changed since your husband was arrested? 

It was a huge shock when he was arrested. We have never expected something like this. After the arrest, we felt shock and stress; we were depressed for a rather long time. But life goes on and I continue to take care and educate our four kids, continue to earn money.

Chernovik chief editor Mairbek Agaev

How did everything begin in Gadzhiev’s case?

Gadzhiev had an absolutely perfect and clean reputation. The whole story started early in the morning in Makhakala, the capital of Dagestan. I was told that it was like a nightmare–an armed group of people with masks and machine guns had broken into his house. They put Gadzhiev on the floor, handcuffed him. His four kids and his wife were shocked. After a day, he was accused of participating in a group which finances ISIS [militant group Islamic State]. It is a nonsense. It is a shame for investigative institutions of the Russian Federation to voice such accusations. This accusation stood almost for three months. Nobody understood anything. 

After three months when he was charged again, this story of financing ISIS has disappeared. They did not find any evidence of money transfers to ISIS, nothing at all. No evidence has been presented in official charges. Other charges were that his articles in Chernovik were influencing the readers to give financial support to ISIS. This charge has been standing exactly for one year. Russia’s criminal code allows to keep people in pre-trial detention for one year. So, new accusations were invented–now he is suspected of being a part of militant groups that were fighting against Russia in Chechnya some 20 years ago. This is the formal reason why he is still kept in pre-trial detention. It is a nonsense and I hope it will not stand. However, all the charges are still formally valid.

Where is Gadzhiev jailed? Have you spoken with him while he is in jail?

From the time he was detained, he is jailed in pre-trail detention center #1 in Makhachkala. He is kept in a section where people accused of terrorism are being kept.

I’m not allowed to talk with him. I have seen him only during the hearing when they extended his stay in pre-trial detention.

What were the articles Gadzhiev published in Chernovik about?

He was explaining complex religious topics of Islam to ordinary people. Abdulmumin has an ability to explain difficult problems in a very simple language. Overall, even the investigators do not base their accusations on the content of his articles in Chernovik

What is the situation for Chernovik now?

In early October last year, some 20 people with weapons broke into our office. It was a raid. They searched our office but it was not clear what they were looking for. I think they wanted to show how superior they were to us and wanted to intimidate us. But not a single journalist has left Chernovik after Gadzhiev’s arrest. Nobody has changed their attitudes toward their work or was frightened. It is so important for an independent media outlet as we are. So, the situation is not bad aside from Gadzhiev’s case. Of course, some would like our newspaper to be closed.

[CPJ contacted via phone Gayana Gariyeva, the head of press office of Dagestan Ministry of Interior, for comment on Gadzhiev’s case. Gariyeva refused to comment, saying the case is in the sphere of the Investigative Committee. CPJ contacted via phone an officer in the Investigative Committee in Moscow, but he refused to give his name or comment on Gadzhiev’s case.]