(Oslo-Paris-Geneva) The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an FIDH-OMCT partnership) condemn the sentencing of Mr. Zhalaudi Geriev, a journalist of the Russian independent news portal Caucasian Knot on September 5, 2016. A Court in Chechnya’s town Shali sentenced Mr. Geriev to three years in prison for possession of drugs, a charge Mr. Geriev vehemently denied during the court proceedings. Mr. Geriev claims he was tortured until confession, but the confession was accepted as evidence during the trial. This and several other procedural violations during the court proceedings have been pointed out by Mr. Geriev’s lawyer.
Mr. Zhalaudi Geriev was kidnapped by three unknown assailants from a minibus on April 16, 2016, while traveling to Chechnya’s capital Grozny. “I was hit on the head and pushed into a black Lada Priora. My phones, a backpack with my passport, notebook and other private belongings were taken from me. I was taken to a forest not far from the Tsotsin-Yurt village”, he declared. There, he was questioned about his occupation and whether he was “going to Syria”, something he denied. A bag was put on his head and fastened tight until he was suffocating; his arms tied up with wire. Afterwards he was driven to a graveyard, where, according to the investigation, he would have reportedly confessed having committed a crime.
We consider the criminal prosecution and sentencing of Mr. Zhalaudi Guriev to be connected with his professional journalistic work, and remind that the case adds to a string of attacks against the freedom of expression in the region.
On September 3, the journalists Elena Kostyuchenko from Novaya Gazeta and Diana Khachatryan from the web-portal Takie Dela were prevented from covering of commemoration of the Beslan tragedy and later attacked by unknown people in Beslan, North Ossetia.
On March 9, 2016, several journalists and human rights activists, including Swedish and Norwegian journalists, were brutally attacked at the border between Ingushetia and Chechnya. They were on a press tour in North Caucasus.
According to Glasnost Defense Foundation, 211 journalists have been murdered in Russia over the last 15 years, many of whom were from North Caucasus or wrote about Chechnya. Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estimirova, and Boris Nemtsov are the most famous names in the West, and were persons who openly criticised Russian policy in Chechnya. Besides, hundreds of journalists are being threatened and beaten each year. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has expressed concern at the limited progress in investigating serious past and ongoing human rights violations, including physical attacks against journalists, in the region.
Accordingly, the NHC and the Observatory urge the Russian authorities to:
· Immediately and unconditionally release journalist Zhalaudi Geriev and to overturn his conviction since it only aims at sanctioning his human rights activities;
· Order an immediate, thorough, effective and transparent investigation into the allegations of abduction and torture against Mr. Geriev, in order to identify all those responsible and bring them to justice;
· Take immediate and effective steps to ensure safety for journalists working in the North Caucasus.
The NHC and the Observatory also urge the international community to carefully follow the situation of journalists and human rights defenders in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, and to demand an investigation into each case of violation against freedom of expression.