Memorial Human Rights Centre on the trial and conviction of Chechen journalist Zhalaudi Geriev

posted 16 Sept 2016, 08:14 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 16 Sept 2016, 08:15 ]
12 September 2016


On 5 September 2016 Shalinsky district court in the Chechen Republic sentenceced Zhalaudi Geriev, a correspondent for the internet publication Caucasian Knot, to three years in a prison colony.

Judge Adam Khamigov found Geriev guilty of committing a crime under Article 228, Section 2 (‘illegal large-scale trafficking in narcotics’) of the Russian Criminal Code, that provides for a punishment of up to 10 years in prison. The prosecutor asked for five years in prison and a further year of restricted freedom.

Zhalaudi Geriev, born 1993, is a resident of the village of Mairtup in Kurchaloevsky district. He is a graduate of the history faculty of Chechen State University.

On 16 April 2016 Geriev was unlawfully detained (in essence, abducted) by armed people at a bus station in the village of Kurchaloi. He was on his way to Grozny to fly to Moscow to take part in a seminar entitled ‘The Media and the Constitutional Court’ organized by the Institute of Law and Public Policy.

Unidentified law enforcement officers stopped the Grozny minibus in which Zhalaudi was sitting. The journalist was dragged by force from the minibus and pushed onto the back seat of a Lada Priora car.

His telephone and backpack with personal things were immediately taken from him.

Geriev was taken to the forest on the edge of the village of Tsotsin-Yurt, where his hands were tied with electricity cable. He was beaten and threatened that he would be shot and buried there in the forest.

The young man was accused of working against the authorities of the Chechen Republic, and of allegedly planning to leave for Syria to join with the IS terrorist group (banned in Russia).

Before long another car arrived, and the man who got out proceeded to torture Geriev, putting a plastic head tightly over his head so that he nearly lost consciousness. When this person left, he took Geriev’s backpack with him, and the others drove the journalist to a cemetery on the edge of the village of Kurchaloi.

It was there, according to the prosecution, that Zhalaudi Geriev was found to have drugs on him and he was detained. At that very place he was forced to confess that he had a large amount of narcotics – marijuana – in his possession. After this, Zhalaudi was taken to one of the district police stations where he continued to be threatened and beaten, although he had already signed a full statement that included everything they demanded he say.

After a few days it became known that Geriev was in Grozny, in the police detention centre for people serving short-term sentences under administrative law. Although a criminal case had already been laid against him, the judge for unknown reasons ruled that Geriev be remanded in custody for 15 days. Staff at the detention centre even wrote a complaint to the prosecutor’s office about this.

The fact is that the judge had at first ruled that Geriev be released pending trial subject to travel restrictions, and apparently Geriev was on that basis released. But he was immediately detained again, allegedly for ‘violation of public order on account of being drunk.’

The first court hearing in Geriev's trial took place two months after his detention on 16 June. The hearing was presided over by Judge Musa Takhtarov from Shalinsky district court. The prosecution was represented by prosecutor Akhmatov from Kurchaloevsky district. Lawyers for the defence were Alavdi Musaev and Suliman Gairbekov (one of the government-appointed lawyers who had represented Geriev during the preliminary investigation).

At the first court hearing, Zhalaudi rejected the admission of guilt he had given earlier. He declared that he had given this testimony under pressure, and set out in detail the circumstances of his unlawful detention.

Geriev’s relatives and numerous witnesses confirmed his statement. People from Geriev’s village who were questioned described the Geriev family as one of the most respectable in the village. No one from the Geriev family, in their words, had ever used drugs, alcohol or even smoked.

In his final address to the court, Zhalaudi swore on the Koran that he had not committed the crime of which he was accused, had done nothing to besmirch the reputation of the Chechen Republic, and only wrote the truth, as the head of the Republic has demanded journalists should do.

However, the court did not take into account either this testimony, nor the arguments of the defence, nor the references to numerous violations of the criminal procedural code. Geriev's conviction was based exclusively on the arguments of the prosecution and the admissions of guilt given by Geriev under pressure during the preliminary investigation.

Until now the case of Zhalaudi Geriev has not been publicized at the request of his parents. They were not only feared for his life and that there would be repressive measures taken against other members of the family, but they had also placed their hopes in the promises of highly-placed law enforcement officials who had said that the situation with their son ‘would be resolved.’

Memorial Human Rights Centre will publish detailed reports on the court hearings in the near future.

‘The journalist has been deprived of his liberty on account of his professional activities, for carrying out his duty,’ chair of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, Aleksandr Cherkasov, has said. ‘The detention, which was essentially an abduction, of Zhalaudi Geriev, the torture and the threats, the fabrication of a criminal case against him, and his conviction on trumped up charges: this is "freedom of speech" in today’s Chechnya, in today’s Russia. 

'I believe that in the very near future Memorial Human Rights Centre will recognize Zhalaudi Geriev as a political prisoner, and I hope that the human rights and journalistic communities will show solidarity with this person who has been unjustly convicted.’