Free Press Unlimited condemns the conviction of independent journalist Zhalaudi Geriev by Chechen court. We call upon the Russian authorities to immediately revisit Geriev’s case to offer him a fair trial and put an end to the repression of journalists and human rights defenders in Chechnya and other regions of Russia.
Zhalaudi Geriev was sentenced to three years in prison based on dubious marijuana possession charges. The appeal filed on September 9th 2016 by his lawyers, shows numerous inconsistencies in the prosecution’s line and alleges that the evidence in the journalist’s case was tempered with or falsified.
The 23 year old journalist works for the prominent Russian-language media outlet Caucasian Knot: a partner of Free Press Unlimited that brings independent news and information from 20 regions of Caucasus. Zhalaudi Geriev was arrested on April 16th as he was traveling from the town of Kurchaloi to the capital of Chechnya Grozny, from which he intended to travel on to Moscow to participate in the seminar on rule of law. According to Human Rights Watch, he was taken from the bus by three armed men. They hit him on the head and dragged him to a car that drove him to a forest near Grozny. The attackers seized his two phones and backpack containing a laptop and other personal belongings.
After questioning him regarding the allegations of planning to travel to Syria and joining the Islamic State group, Zhalaudi Geriev was taken into the police custody with a package of marijuana allegedly found in his backpack. Geriev claims that he was forced to sign a confession that the drugs belonged to him. At trial, Geriev withdrew his confession alleging that it was made under duress. However, the court found the journalist guilty of “possession of banned substances in large quantities”. Caucasian Knot and other organisations aware of the case did not publicly highlight it before the verdict due to the wishes of his family that was hoping for a fair trial.
The jailing of Zhalaudi Geriev took place days before the elections in Russia on September 18th, when the current ruler of Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, is expected to be granted another term in office. The limitation of freedom of expression in the Russian Federation and continued crackdown on independent media lead to a further deterioration in the rule of law and deprive the Russian citizens of the access to independent and trustworthy information. Which is especially damaging in light of the upcoming elections, during which journalists play a crucial role in informing the public.