Police on April 16, 2016, detained Zhalaudi Geriyev, a contributor to the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel, in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus republic of Chechnya while he was traveling to the region’s capital Grozny.
Chechnya’s Shali district court sentenced him on September 5, 2016, to three years in prison on drug possession charges, according to his employer.
Geriyev, who reported on sensitive issues from Chechnya including human rights abuses and official corruption, was detained while on his way from the Kurchaloi district to Grozny, where he planned to fly to Moscow for a media conference, Kavkazsky Uzel’s editor-in-chief, Gregory Shvedov, told CPJ on September 22, 2016. Geriyev’s arrest came in the run-up to the September 18, 2016, parliamentary election in Russia, which coincided with the presidential vote in the Chechen republic.
Geriyev had complained prior to his arrest that he believed he was under surveillance, and had been followed for several days while out conducting interviews, Shvedov told CPJ.
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 at his trial. He said they threatened him and questioned him about his work as a journalist.
The journalist was forced to confess to carrying and using marijuana and officers planted 167 grams of the substance in his backpack, Geriyev said at the trial, according to his employer, Kavkazsky Uzel. At the concluding hearing, at Shali district court on September 5, 2016, Geriyev retracted his written confession, saying he was under duress from police at the time of the arrest. “I was hit in the head, and 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 marked 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 the 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 was being held at Chernokozovo prison. The prison, which is about 60 kilometers from Grozny, is known for torture and beatings of inmates, according to Human Rights Watch.
On September 9, 2016, Geriyev’s defense team filed an appeal, citing fabricated materials in the case, according to Shvedov.
Geriyev lost his appeal in Chechnya’s Supreme Court in December 2016. In July 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court rejected the reporter’s application to appeal the guilty verdict, his employer Kavkazsky Uzel reported.
On September 18, 2018, a district court in Chechnya ruled that Geriyev was to be released on parole. The prosecutor’s office appealed the ruling and on November 8, 2018, the Supreme Court of Chechnya ruled that the journalist cannot be released, Kavkazsky Uzel reported. The outlet quoted the journalist’s lawyer, Alaudi Musayev, as saying that Geriyev “was feeling well and did not have any complaints about his health.”