Reporters Without Borders welcomes a decision by a court in Makhachkala, the capital of the southern republic of Dagestan, to end a three-year legal battle by acquitting the weekly Chernovik on charges of extremism, inciting hatred and defaming the security forces.
“The Dagestan security forces and prosecutor’s office pulled out all the stops in their attempt to silence this publication, Dagestan’s leading independent newspaper,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But the charges were so absurd that their prosecution collapsed.”
The charges were brought against editor Nadira Isayeva and four of her journalists – Biakay Magomedov, Artur Mamayev, Magomed Magomedov and Timur Mustafayev – in 2008 over a series of articles critical of the regional police and the Federal Security Service (FSB).
One of the articles that prompted the prosecution, headlined “Terrorist No. 1,” quoted Rappan Khalilov, the leader of a rebel group fighting in Dagestan. Illegal searches were carried out at the newspaper’s headquarters and at the homes of the journalists.
The prosecution case was largely based on a “psychological and linguistic evaluation” which, after being challenged by the defence, was sent to the Federal Centre for Forensic Examination (FTsCE) in Moscow for arbitration. The FTsCE’s evaluation, which the court received on 4 May, concluded that the article in question did not constitute grounds for a prosecution. The prosecution responded by requesting yet another expert evaluation, but the request was denied.
“The FTsCE report deprived the prosecution of any evidence of a crime,” Biakay Magomedov told Reporters Without Borders after the final hearing. “I think the jury had no choice but to acquit us.” Magomedov nonetheless added that he did not rule out the possibility of a prosecution appeal against the acquittal.
Chernovik has been hounded in the courts. The Federal Agency for Supervising Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor) and the Dagestan prosecutor’s office brought a civil complaint against the newspaper, requesting its closure. It was finally rejected by Dagestan’s supreme court in September 2010.
The newspaper, which dares to cover special operations by the security forces and the frequent disappearances in Dagestan, is subject to other forms of harassment as well. Three of its journalists were on a list of “people to be killed” that was circulated anonymously on the streets of Makhachkala in 2009.
“Journalists risk their lives to provide the public with news and information in Dagestan, where attacks, kidnappings and murders are common,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Members of the security forces are often accused of corruption and of trying to destabilize the republic.
“Against this backdrop, Chernovik’s acquittal is a ray of hope, The courts must continue to demonstrate their independence, above all by making a serious efforts to combat impunity for those who physically attack or murder journalists.”
27.08.2008 Police search homes of three journalists in Dagestan
The homes of the editor of Chernovik, an independent weekly based in the southern republic of Dagestan, and two of its reporters were searched yesterday as part of a criminal investigation into the editor, Nadira Isayeva, who has been charged with inciting hatred and “attacking human dignity” for quoting one of the leaders of the boyevikis (independence fighters).
“We condemn the charges brought against Chernovik,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The claims being made to justify this prosecution are just a pretext to prevent independent journalists from expressing themselves freely.”
Police and prosecutors together carried out the searches of the homes of Isayeva, Khadjimurat Kamalov, the weekly’s founder, and Artur Mammayev, a political reporter.
Two criminal investigations of the newspaper and its editor were opened, on 31 July, in which they are accused of “publicly inciting extremism through the media” and “inciting hatred and attacking human dignity” in connection with a 4 July article entitled “Number One Terrorists” that quoted boyeviki leader Rappan Khalilov.
Dagestan prosecutor Igor Tkachev said: “The publication of statements by boyeviki leader Khalilov in the newspaper gives this criminal band operating in Dagestan the status of an organised political force.”
Kamalov told the press: “This raid is a deliberate response by Dagestan’s interior minister. I met with the president of Dagestan on 25 August in the presence of the public prosecutor, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the interior minister. And I publicly accused the interior minister of being responsible for the corruption in our republic.”
Isayeva said the searches of the homes of her two colleagues were illegal as she is the only one who has been personally charged and they are just witnesses.