New York, June 29, 2023—Russian authorities should release journalist Abdulmumin Gadzhiev and stop prosecuting reporters for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On June 22, during a hearing in the Yuzhniy Military Court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, a prosecutor requested a 19-year prison term for Gadzhiev, the religion editor of independent outlet Chernovik.
Russian authorities have detained Gadzhiev since June 2019 on charges of participating in and financing a terrorist organization. In March 2020, authorities filed an additional charge of participating in an extremist organization.
The next hearing in his case is scheduled for June 29. Magomed Magomedov, deputy editor-in-chief of Chernovik, told CPJ via messaging app told CPJ they expect a verdict by mid-July or early August.
Gadzhiev and his colleagues maintain his innocence, and allege that his fellow defendant was beaten and forced to testify against him. The editorial staff of Chernovik has stated that they consider Gadzhiev’s charges “unlawful and unfounded” and retaliation for the newspaper’s critical coverage of local law enforcement.
“In four years of investigation, Russian authorities have failed spectacularly to produce a shred of incriminating evidence against journalist Abdulmumin Gadzhiev. A prosecutor’s request to sentence him to 19 years in prison is unfounded and preposterous,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in Amsterdam. “Authorities should release Gadzhiev, drop all charges against him, and stop retaliating against independent journalists for their reporting.”
Authorities claimed that Gadzhiev’s reporting on the Ansar charitable foundation—which the prosecution accused of funding the militant Islamic State group and two other organizations labeled as terrorist—influenced readers to financially support those groups.
On June 22, the prosecutor accused Gadzhiev of participating in three terrorist organizations, including the Islamic State group, and transferring 16,000 rubles (US$245, at the time) to the Islamic State.
Magomedov told CPJ that Gadzhiev “only once” reported about the Ansar foundation.
“Nowhere in the article is any mention of the aforementioned terrorist organizations, nor any calls or hints to fund or support them,” Magomedov added.
“As if there were no three expert examinations of my articles, none of which found anything illegal in them, much less related to terrorism,” Gadzhiev said at the hearing, as reported by a Telegram channel administered by the journalist’s supporters.
During the hearing, the prosecutor also requested 19-year sentences for a person identified as the Aman foundation founder, Kemal Tambiyev, and Abubakar Rizvanov, a founder of the Ansar foundation.
The prosecutor asked that the three defendants serve the first three years in prison and the rest of the time in a penal colony, and requested a 250,000 ruble (US$2,890) fine for each, according to an email sent to CPJ from a representative for the Southern District Military Court, who did not provide their name.
In July 2020, Dana Gadzhieva, the journalist’s wife, and Mairbek Agaev, chief editor of Chernovik, told CPJ they believed the charges against the journalist to be an attack on press freedom in Dagestan, a region in Russia’s North Caucasus.
The prosecution’s request for 19 years imprisonment is “savage,” Magomedov told CPJ, adding that it reflected “the absolute insanity of the prosecution.”
“The criminal case—according to what was stated during the trial [and] according to what was presented as evidence by the prosecution—not only fell apart, it turned into dust,” he said.
“An objective justice should acquit the accused,” Magomedov told CPJ. “But…this is the Rostov military court. They have very few acquittals.”
CPJ’s email to the Investigative Committee in Dagestan did not receive a response.
In December 2011, a masked assailant shot and killed Chernovik’s founder Gadzhimurad Kamalov in Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala. On November 25, 2022, the outlet announced that it had suspended its printed version due to “politically motivated pressure” from Dagestan authorities.
At least 19 journalists, including Gadzhiev, were behind bars in Russia on December 1, 2022, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.