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Editor and journalist from Daghestani newspaper Chernovik detained on terror charges

17 June 2019
'Freedom to Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev'. (Saida Vagavova / OC Media)

An editor and journalist from Chernovik, an independent newspaper in the Russian republic of Daghestan, has been arrested on suspicion of financing terrorism and participating in a terrorist organisation.

On 16 June, Makhachkala’s Sovietsky District Court began bail hearings in the case of Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev, the editor of the religion section of Chernovik.

Gadzhiyev was detained and his flat searched on 14 June.

Gadzhiyev is being defended by six lawyers, including from human rights groups Memorial and Zona Prava (law zone), as well as a public defender, Arsen Magomedov.

The judge hearing the case gave the lawyers two days to collect evidence on Gadzhiyev’s and two other suspects’ characters. The hearings will continue on 18 June.

According to one of Gadzhiyev’s lawyers, Arsen Shabanov, searches of Gadzhiyev’s house began without the presence of lawyers. Shabanov told OC Media that during the search, equipment including a telephone was seized and Gadzhiyev was brought in for interrogation.

According to Shabanov, the case against Gadzhiyev was initiated on 13 June and includes 10 other people. Two other people have so far been detained — businessmen Kemal Tambiyev from Karachay-Cherkessia and Abubakar Rizvanov from Daghestan.

According to the investigation, since 2013, the suspects collected money ‘to spread the ideas of Islamic extremism’ and continue the activities of the Islamic State.

Investigators claimed this was done through charitable foundations created by Israil Akhmednabiyev, better known as Abu Umar Sasitlinskiy, a preacher from Daghestan who has raised money for charities in Africa.

Since 2018, he has been placed on an international wanted list by the Russian Federal Security Service on suspicion of involvement in financing a terrorist organisation.

In an interview with YouTube channel alKifaya, Sasitlynskiy denied the allegations saying that he was accused of funding both the Islamic State and Dzhebhat an-Nusra, which were hostile to each other.

‘Torture and pressure on the witness’

During the court hearing, Gadzhiyev testified that he had never transferred funds to charitable foundations and, conversely, dissuaded people from sending money to foreign funds, which he said could be verified with his bank. He said he believed that since the investigation did not have evidence from his accounts, they ‘found witnesses’ who he had never met.

‘I have never heard Tambiyev’s surname. I saw him for the first time today in a cage. The exhausted and beaten man responded to the name of Tambiyev. Tambiyev apologised to me and confessed that he was tortured’, Gadzhiyev said.

Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev in court.

At the bail hearing for Tambiyev, bruises were visible on his face and under his eyes. The prosecution submitted to the case file Tambiyev’s interrogation, in which he admited his guilt and testified against Gadzhiyev, saying that Gadzhiyev was the administrator of a VKontakte group through which the financing of terrorism was carried out.

Lawyer Murad Magomedov from Memorial told OC Media that Gadzhiyev was not the administrator of any groups and did not transfer funds to any foundations.

Tambiyev’s lawyer, Taulan Ebzeyev, stated in court that the security forces had pressured and tortured his lawyer was not present during the interrogation. Tambiyev silently nodded his head to this.

Tambiyev’s wife, Laura Kurdzhiyeva, told OC Media that on 14 June, police raided their apartment in Moscow during which they hit Tambiyev in the stomach and face before taking him to a police station.

Rafidin Kurbanov, the lawyer of the third detainee, Abubakar Rizvanov, also insisted his client was innocent.

‘Pressure on the Chernovik newspaper’

On 14 June, the editorial office of the Chernovik issued a statement on Gadzhiyev’s arrest calling the accusations against him ‘absurd’. They said Gadzhiyev had had no contact with Sasitlynskiy.

Chernovik stated that charges of ‘financing terrorism’ in the North Caucasus were equivalent to ‘planting drugs on Ivan Golunov in Moscow’.

‘If a person needs to be imprisoned, and if he is at least a little involved in religious activities, then … you can always find a reason’, the publication said.

[Read OC Media’s editorial: I/We are Golunov, and Geriyev, and Kochesoko…]

The newspaper’s owner, Magdi Kamalov, told OC Media that Gadzhiyev was completely against terrorism and extremism. He said that Gadzhiyev was one of the first people to write about the murder of a police officer in the Sergokalinsky District.

‘Their [the murderers’] activity has nothing to do with Islam. Many of these young people are youths who were engaged in petty crime and banditry in peaceful life’, Gadzhiyev wrote under a pseudonym.

Chernovik stated that they intended to seek clarification from the authorities about the reason for Gadzhiyev’s arrest. They said they would demand the authorities ‘remove all the absurd charges against Gadzhiyev and bring to justice those who openly invent charges and form empty criminal cases that break people’s destinies’.

On 15 and 16 June, employees from Chernovik, other journalists, human rights activists, and friends of Gadzhiyev held single-person pickets in front of the Sovetsky District Court in Makhachkala in support of Gadzhiyev. About 50 people gathered daily.

On 16 June, a protest in support of journalist Ivan Golunov was held in Moscow.

Golunov, a journalist from Meduza, was arrested on 6 June on charges of drug possession and released five days later after public outcry.

Chernovik reported that there were posters in support of Gadzhiyev at the protest. ‘Ivan Golunov is free! What about everyone else? Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev. Makhachkala. Martin Kochesoko. Nalchik’, one poster read.

Chernovik's owner Magdi Kamalov said at a press conference on 16 June that the case against Gadzhiyev was a part of a campaign of pressure on the newspaper.

He said this could be related to their coverage of ongoing border talks between Chechnya and Daghestan.

[Read on OC Media: Residents of Daghestan demolish Chechen road sign at the border near Kizlyar]

Kamalov said that the editors were ready to go on single-person pickets in support of Gadzhiyev including in other cities, as well as to go on hunger strike.