Daghestani activists detained in rally for arrested Meduza journalist

10 June 2019
The protest in Makhachkala (Caucasian Knot)

Three activists were briefly detained in the Russian Republic of Daghestan after they held an unsanctioned rally in support of a Meduza journalist and a Circassian activist, both of whom were arrested in recent days on drug charges.

At the protest on 9 June in the Leninsky Komsomol Park in the Daghestani capital Makhachkala, eight journalists and activists recorded a video message condemning the planting of drugs and other illegal items on journalists and activists.

The action was held in support of Moscow-based journalist Ivan Golunov and Circassian activist Martin Kochesoko.

Police detained the rally’s organiser, Arsen Magomedov, an activist of the Nash Gorod (our city) public movement, Murad Manapov, and local journalist Magomedbek Magomedov.

Magomedov told OC Media that the detentions of Golunov and Kochesoko resonated in the North Caucasus. He said that in Daghestan the authorities also applied pressure on journalists and public figures who demanded that the rule of law be followed.

He cited as examples the repeated detentions of journalists and activists in Daghestan, the planting of drugs, and the situation of Oyub Titiyev, the head of the Memorial Human Rights Centre in Chechnya who was convicted of illegal drug possession, and others.

Magomedov said he believed that drugs were planted on both Golunov and Kochesoko, as this was ‘a long-established method of the authorities to fight against undesirables’.

Arsen Magomedov (Facebook)

Magomedov said that only eight people gathered at the Leninsky Komsomol Park, which was set aside by the government for public actions of up to 100 people. According to him, they did not violate the law by recording a video in support of Golunov and Kochesoko.

‘We managed to record a video, and then police officers approached us and said that it was an unauthorised action’, he said.

Magomedov said that at the police station they were identified, made to explain why they held a rally in support of a journalist and a Circassian activist, and after two hours, all three were released.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Daghestan told OC Media that an anonymous call was made to the police that a group of people in the Leninsky Komsomol Park were violating public order, and the police ‘were forced to bring the organiser and participants of the action [to the police station] to find out the circumstances’.

Magomedov explained that in the end, the police recognised that there was no violation of public order.

‘I/WE = IVAN GOLUNOV’

The protests in Makhachkala were part of a nationwide protest movement in support of Ivan Golunov held in several Russian cities since 7 June.

Golunov was arrested on 6 June in Moscow after police said they had discovered five bundles of illegal drugs in his backpack. On 8 June, the court released him to house arrest despite investigators demanding he be held in pre-trial detention. If convicted, he faces 10–20 years in prison.

Golunov was a journalist for Meduza, a Riga-based online newspaper covering Russia founded in 2014 by former employees of Lenta.ru, who were fired en masse.

On Sunday, a picket resumed outside the main building of the Interior Ministry in Moscow. A march in support of Golunov is planned for Wednesday in Moscow demanding that his prosecution be dropped and that those who planted drugs on him are punished.

On Monday, Russian business newspapers Vedomosti, Kommersant, and RBK published identical front-page spreads for the first time in their history, with the headline ‘I/WE = IVAN GOLUNOV’.

Vedomosti, Kommersant, and RBK with the headline ‘I/WE = IVAN GOLUNOV’. (Meduza)

The newspapers made a joint statement demanding an investigation into the actions of the police, and that the results be made public, as the circumstances around and legality of Golunov’s detention were in serious doubt.

‘Planted drugs’

Meduza cited Golunov as saying that police officers planted two packages of an unknown substance on him, prevented him from calling a lawyer, and beat him.

In a statement published on their website, Meduza’s Editor-in-Chief Ivan Kolpakov and director Galina Timchenko said his arrest was connected to his journalism since Golunov had received threats in recent months in connection with an investigation he was preparing.

In May, Meduza published an investigation by Golunov alleging that certain microfinance organisations fraudulently took apartments from debtors. According to Russian magazine Snob, on the day of his arrest, Golunov met with an informant for an article about funeral services in Moscow.

The protest in Makhachkala was also in support of Martin Kochesoko, the head of the Circassian organisation Khabze. Kochesoko was detained by police on 7 June in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria after police said they found drugs in his car.

Caucasian Knot reported that Kochesoko’s arrest was preceded by attempts by the authorities to pressure him after he held a roundtable on federalism in Nalchik. Several pro-government news outlets accused him of being an agent of the US and the Turkish special services.

‘Journalists also make mistakes’

According to Russian state-owned news agency Ria, employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow distributed fake photos of a laboratory in Golunov’s apartment, and hospital workers confirmed that the detained journalist had bruises on his back and a hematoma around his eye.

Russian news site Mediazone reported that police had claimed that Golunov was involved in the sale of drugs in Moscow nightclubs, but that investigators failed to provide any evidence at his bail hearing.

The Interior Ministry has refuted reports of Golunov’s beating. They said the confusion with photographs was an employee’s mistake and promised to carry out an internal investigation.

Meduza cited the press secretary of Russian President Dmitry Peskov as saying that while the police had made a mistake, journalists also make mistakes.

The head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, asked the public to ‘stop pressing’ and stop interfering in Golunov’s case. He said that the investigation and the court would deal with the case.

Caucasian Knot reported that Golunov had previously investigated the assets of Kadyrov’s associates.

According to Ria, Anton Kobyakov, assistant to Russian President Vladimir Putin, promised to look into Golunov’s case. At the request of Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, the case was also taken under the control of the main department of the Interior Ministry in Moscow.

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Let’s be honest, the media situation in the Caucasus is grim. Every day we are accused of ‘serving the enemy’ whoever that enemy may be. Our journalists have been harassed, arrested, beaten, and exiled. But nevertheless, we persevere. For us this is a labour of love. Unfortunately, we cannot run OC Media on love alone, journalism is expensive and funding is scarce. Our sole mission is to serve the interests of all peoples of the region. Support us today and join us in the fight for a better Caucasus.

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