Around 30 masked and heavily armed law enforcement officers raided the offices of Daghestani newspaper Chernovik on Wednesday morning, as part of a criminal case against journalist Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev.
Gadzhiyev was detained on 14 June on charges of financing terrorism and participating in a terrorist organisation. On 9 September, a court in Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan, extended Gadzhiyev’s pre-trial detention until November.
Gadzhiyev was initially accused of ‘financing terrorism through a conspiratorial group in VKontakte called Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev’. The evidence for this was testimony from Kemal Tambiyev, who said during his own bail hearing on 16 June that he signed this testimony under the influence of torture.
On 22 July, Gadzhiyev was officially charged but instead of ‘financing terrorism’, the authorities now accused him of joining Chernovik in order to write about a charity run by Abu Umar Sasitlinskiy.
Sasitlinskiy has been on an international wanted list since 2018 accused of ‘financing terrorism and participation in a terrorist organisation’.
The Russian Union of Journalists and Media Workers, the OSCE, and Reporters Without Borders all expressed support for Chernovik.
The Union of Journalists stated that they were ‘protesting the lawlessness of the security forces, which can be regarded as another attempt to put pressure on a truth-telling publication’.
‘The Union of Journalists and Media Workers demands the immediate release of journalist Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev, who is being detained without any clear reason, and for the ceassation of the disruption of the work of the oldest independent newspaper in Daghestan, contrary to all laws, starting with the Constitution’, the organisation’s website says.
Harlem Désir, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, called on the Russian authorities to do everything possible so that the newspaper could continue to work without hindrance.
I am concerned by today’s search in the editorial office of independent online newspaper @Chernovik_net, in Makhachkala, #Russia. I call on the authorities to ensure that the media outlet can continue to work unimpeded.
— OSCE media freedom (@OSCE_RFoM) October 2, 2019
Reporters Without Borders condemned the authorities’ ‘heavy-handed’ raid, calling it a ‘show of force’.
The searches of Chernovik’s editorial office lasted for seven hours. Only two employees were present at the time: executive secretary Elnara Agatova and correspondent Inna Khatukayeva.
The paper’s editor-in-chief, Mairbek Agayev, and owner, Magdi Kamalov, flew to Perm the day before to participate in a media forum. The remaining employees were out on assignment.
After news of the raid spread, lawyers, journalists, and other supporters gathered outside the newspaper’s gates. The paper’s lawyers and the deputy chief editor, Magomed Magomedov, were not allowed inside for several hours.
Chernovik correspondent Inna Khatukayeva, who was present throughout, told OC Media that the officers initially refused to identify themselves or present a search warrant.
‘They immediately began to demand keys to the doors of the [offices of the] editor-in-chief and the founder of the newspaper. They threatened to break them down’, she said.
‘Only by afternoon did one of the investigators read out the search warrant.’
According to her, the officers were aggressive and did not allow anyone to call and report what was happening, including a lawyer. ‘In the end, one lawyer, Arsen Shabanov, was allowed to come in.’ Shabanov is representing Gadzhiyev.
‘They asked [where] Gadzhiyev’s workspace [was located], but he works remotely. They looked through every piece of paper and notebook. They took away three computers, the notes of [deputy editor-in-chief] Magomedov.’
They were also looking for a server and CCTV recordings from the street.’
According to her, officers also confiscated a binder of newspapers from 2009–2011, a hard drive, a router, a mobile phone used to communicate with readers, and papers from journalists’ desks.
The papers sized included details of the officers in charge of the investigation into Gadzhiyev.
According to Khatukayeva, officers also seized a knife in a gift box, which she said was a gift from the federal tax service, as well as flash drives, disks and an old photo film.
She added that investigators expressed outrage by the poor condition of the office, with one commenting that it ‘seemed strange to him that the editorial board had money to finance terrorism but not to make repairs’.
Following the raid, Chernovik held a press conference in which Deputy Chief Editor Magomed Magomedov called the actions of the investigators a ‘masquerade’.
He said that if investigators had come ‘calmly with two officers’, any information ‘would have been provided, no one would have hindered the seizure of computers’.
He said that information contained in notes confiscated by officers was collected ‘from open sources as a part of a journalistic investigation’.
He stated that the criminal case against Gadzhiyev was ‘a figment of the imagination of the investigative group’.
He added that those present were prevented from taking photographs.
Gadzhiyev’s lawyer, Arsen Shabanov, told OC Media that the raid was conducted to apply pressure on the newspaper, which ‘covers all the illegal actions of the investigation in the case of Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev’.
He said that he did not know if all of the items supposedly sized were found in Chernovik’s offices and not brought by one of the officers, as the only two witnesses were not physically able to be present in all the rooms at the same time.
According to him, the seized records were not relevant to the criminal case but may reveal the plans of the editorial office on how to collect evidence confirming the innocence of Gadzhiyev.