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Chernovik journalist Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev (file photo)
Chernovik journalist Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev (file photo)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned a raid by dozens of police officers on Chernovik, an independent weekly in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Daghestan, as being part of an "unacceptable witch-hunt."

The October 2 search of the newspaper's headquarters in the regional capital, Makhachkala, by armed and masked policemen was linked to an investigation into Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev, a Chernovik journalist held since June on terrorism charges.

"This heavy-handed raid has seriously compromised the confidentiality of Chernovik’s sources and its ability to successfully conduct sensitive investigations" Johann Bihr, the head of Reporters Without Borders' Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement.

"It also sends a very clear chilling message to all the media, which have rallied with unusual energy in support of [Gadzhiyev]," Bihr added.

In their raid, police stormed into Chernovik’s headquarters, locked the only two journalists present in an office, and then carried out a search "without waiting for the newspaper's lawyer or a representative of its management," the Paris-based media-freedom watchdog said.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Desir, expressed concern over the search, and called on the authorities to "ensure that the media outlet can continue to work unimpeded."

Gadzhiyev was initially charged with "funding terrorism," an accusation that was later changed to "inciting" the funding of terrorism.

However, police experts concluded in a report submitted to investigators last week that the 2013 article about an Islamic charity foundation, which was cited as evidence, contained no proof to support the charge.

"Everything indicates that the security services are going all out to rescue an investigation whose last prop had just collapsed," Bihr said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the prosecutions of Gadzhiyev and another Russian journalist facing "bogus" terrorism charges, Svetlana Prokopyeva, were "clear attempts by the Russian government to silence its critics in the media."

"While the cases may be different, they send a chilling and unambiguous message to all journalists in Russia," it added.

The HRW statement said Gadzhiyev and his paper have reported extensively on Russia’s misuse of terrorism charges against Salafis, who follow a fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni Islam.

“In fact, the government’s widespread crackdown" against Salafis in Daghestan "left Chernovik as the only public discussion platform for moderate Salafis," it said.

One of the most popular newspapers in the Muslim-majority republic of Daghestan, Chernovik has been a "frequent target of harassment," according to RSF.

In 2011, the weekly was acquitted of charges of colluding with terrorism. Its founder, Khadzhimurad Kamalov, was gunned down a few months later.

Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

Before he was detained, Yakut shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev had been walking to Moscow to "exorcise" President Vladimir Putin.
Before he was detained, Yakut shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev had been walking to Moscow to "exorcise" President Vladimir Putin.

A psychiatric examination has determined that a Yakut shaman who was detained last month while walking from Siberia toward Moscow with the declared aim of "driving [President Vladimir] Putin out of the Kremlin" is mentally unfit to face trial.

A human rights coordinator at opposition group Open Russia, Valentina Dekhtyarenko, told RFE/RL on October 3 that Aleksandr Gabyshev's lawyers want their client to be examined by independent psychiatrists.

Experts with whom the group spoke said they doubted the official psychiatric exam’s results, while Dekhtyarenko said she was promised access to the exam’s findings by October 5.

Although Gabyshev is a suspect in a criminal case, he has not been officially charged with any crimes yet, but was ordered not to leave his native city of Yakutsk, she said.

Gabyshev had covered more than 2,000 kilometers by foot since his journey began in March, speaking with hundreds of people along the way.

As his profile rose, videos of his conversations with people appeared on social media, attracting millions of views.

Shaman On 8,000-Kilometer Trek 'To Topple Putin'
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In July, when reaching the city of Chita, Gabyshev gathered some 700 people under the slogan "Russia without Putin!" The shaman said that "God told me Putin is not a human, but instead a demon and has ordered me to drive him out."

On September 19, dozens of masked and armed special police force troops detained Gabyshev in the Siberian region of Buryatia. The authorities later transferred him to his native Yakutia, where he was first placed in a psychiatric clinic and later released.

Shaman On Trek 'To Topple Putin' Seized By Masked Men
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Gabyshev was told he was suspected of inciting extremism among Russian citizens and ordered not to leave Yakutia's capital, Yakutsk.

Shamans have served as healers and diviners in Siberia for centuries. During the Soviet age of "science and reason," the mystical figures were harshly repressed. But in isolated regions of Siberia, they are regaining importance.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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