Abdulmumin Gadzhiev, editor of the religious section of independent Russian outlet Chernovik, has been detained since June 2019 on terrorism charges. Russian authorities filed additional terrorism charges in March 2020. The journalist’s colleagues said they believe the charges stem from Gadzhiev’s 2009 interview with Israil Ahmednabiev, who was later accused of terrorism by Russian authorities.
Gadzhiev covered issues related to Islam in the Chernovik section that he edited, including explaining the basics of the religion, Islamic finance, and the economy. The issues are sensitive in Russia’s North Caucasus, where many men were recruited to the Islamic State militant group during the conflicts 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 Chernovik and other media reports. They searched his home and seized phones and computers, according to his employer and a report by Radio Svoboda, the Russian service of U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/FL).
Gadzhiev’s lawyer Arsen Shabanov said that the journalist was facing criminal charges of financing a terrorist organization for allegedly wiring money to Ahmednabiev, according to those sources. Russian authorities accuse Ahmednabiev in turn of financing terrorist organizations, according to news website Kavkazsky Uzel. Gadzhiev denied the charges, according to reports.
Chernovik reported that it believes the charges are in retaliation for Gadzhiev’s work. The charges stem from a November 2009 Chernovik article in which Gadzhiev interviewed Ahmednabiev, then a student, 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 RFE/FL. Since 2018, authorities have arrested several people for alleged ties to Ahmednabiev, including Gadzhiev, according to the 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 “absurd” and “groundless.”
On June 16, 2019, Kemal Tambiev, a businessman who was detained on similar charges the same day as the journalist, said at a court hearing 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.
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.
Law enforcement raided the Chernovik offices on October 2 and seized all equipment, including hard drives, in connection with the investigation into the journalist, according to the paper.
On March 27, 2020, authorities filed new charges against Gadzhiev, accusing him of participating in a terrorist organization, according to Mediazona.
If convicted of financing a terrorist organization, Gadzhiev could face up to 10 years in prison; if convicted of participating in such an organization, he could face an additional 20 years, according to the Russian criminal code.
On September 22, 2021, Chernovik deputy chief editor Magomed Magomedov told CPJ in a phone interview that Gadzhiev was being held in a detention facility in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Magomedov also said that Gadzhiev will be tried by a military court.
The Yuzhniy Military Court in Rostov-on-Don has extended Gadzhiev’s detention several times, most recently until January 28, 2023, Magomedov told CPJ.
On September 22, Dana Sakiyeva, Gadzhiev’s wife, was quoted as saying by Kavkazsky Uzel that the journalist still could not be visited by his relatives in the pretrial detention center.
Magomedov told CPJ in October 2022 that Gadzhiev was doing fine, did not have notable health issues, and remained optimistic. During the multiple hearings in Gadzhiev’s case, many witnesses denied the testimony that prosecutors claim they had given during the investigation according to multiple media reports.
On November 25, Chernovik announced that it had suspended the printed version of the paper. “Printing houses are unwillingly refusing to print it and the authorities put pressure on the paper’s distributors and advertisers,” Chernovik’s statement said, adding that it believes the suspension was “politically motivated pressure on the newspaper by the authorities in Dagestan, who are not capable of fair and legal opposition in the information field.”
In October 2022, CPJ called the Russian Ministry of Interior, but nobody answered the phone. CPJ emailed the press service of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, but did not receive any replies.