Abdulmumin Gadzhiev, the editor of independent Russian outlet Chernovik’s religion section, was detained on terrorism charges on June 14, 2019. On March 27, 2020, Russian authorities filed additional terrorism charges, and in September ordered his detention extended. The journalist’s colleagues said they believe the charges stem from his 2009 interview with Israil Ahmednabiev, whom Russian authorities later accused of terrorism.
Gadzhiev covered issues related to Islam in the Chernovik section that he edited, including explaining the basics of the religion, Islamic finance, and economy. The issues are sensitive in Russia’s North Caucasus, where many men were recruited to the militant group Islamic State at the height of war in Syria and Iraq.
On June 14, 2019, the security services in the Russian republic of Dagestan detained Gadzhiev in the city of Makhachkala, according to his employer and other media reports. They searched his home and seized phones and computers, according to his employer and news reports.
Gadzhiev’s lawyer said that the journalist was facing criminal charges of financing a terrorist organization for allegedly wiring money to Ahmednabiev. Russian authorities accuse Ahmednabiev in turn of financing terrorist organizations, according to news website MBK News.
Chernovik reported that it believes the charges are in retaliation for Gadzhiev’s work.
The charges stem from the November 2009 article in Chernovik in which Gadzhiev interviewed the then-Islamic student Ahmednabiev in a small Dagestani village of Novo-Sasitli, the paper’s founder Magdi Kamalov told the Moscow-based radio station Ekho Moskvy. In the interview, Ahmednabiev talked about his study of Islam in Syria in 2000 and shared his plans to get a doctorate degree in Islamic studies, Kamalov said.
In 2014, Russian authorities charged Ahmednabiev with supporting terrorism, accusing him of financing terrorist organizations Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State, and issued an international arrest warrant for him, according to Kavkaz-Realii, the Caucasus-focused project of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Since 2018, authorities have arrested several people for alleged ties to Ahmednabiev, including Gadzhiev, according to the same report.
On June 28, 2019, following Gadzhiev’s arrest, Ahmednabiev shared a video on YouTube in which he denied helping terrorists and called the charges against those arrested as “absurd” and “groundless.”
On June 16, Kemal Tambiev, a businessman who was detained the same day as the journalist, and on similar charges, appeared before a judge and said that he was beaten in detention and forced to testify against Gadzhiev, Kavkaz-Realii reported. Gadzhiev said at the hearing that he did not know Tambiev. Tambiev appeared with bruises on his face, independent media and rights-related news site Mediazona reported.
On July 3, 2019, a court in Dagestan denied Gadzhiev’s request to transfer him to house arrest. The journalist’s lawyer, Asad Jabirov, was quoted by the regional independent news website Kavkazsky Uzel as saying that his defense team was denied access to Gadzhiev to prepare his defense on several occasions.
On October 2, law enforcement raided the offices of Chernovik and seized all equipment including hard drives in connection with the investigation into the journalist, according to the paper. On November 12, 2019, a court extended Gadzhiev’s detention until January 13, 2020, according to Kavkazsky Uzel.
The journalist’s wife, Danna Gadzhieva, told CPJ via phone in late October 2019 that the journalist was being held at Detention Center No. 1 in Makhachala.
On March 27, 2020, authorities filed new charges against Gadzhiev, accusing him of participating in a terrorist organization, according to news reports and Chernovik chief editor Mairbek Agaev, who spoke to CPJ via phone, and said that he believed the charges were retaliation for Gadzhiev’s journalism.
Agaev told CPJ in September 2020 that authorities’ investigation was complete and ready to be sent to the military court in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, where the case will be tried. The Supreme Court of Dagestan extended Gadzhiev’s detention until at least December 13, 2020, according to Agaev.
If convicted of financing a terrorist organization, Gadzhiev could face up to 10 years in prison; if convicted of participating in one, he could face an additional 20 years, according to the Russian penal code.
Gadzhiev underwent a minor operation while in detention but has otherwise been in good health, Dana Gadzhieva and Agaev told CPJ.
CPJ called the investigator in Gadzhiev’s case, Nadir Televov, but he refused to comment and asked CPJ to forget his phone number and never call again. CPJ emailed Russia’s prosecutor general’s office for comment but did not receive any response.