16 May 2019, 13:27
Zhalaudi Geriev is a Chechen journalist and a correspondent of the "Caucasian Knot". On September 5, 2016, he was sentenced to 3 years of imprisonment on the charge of drug possession. The Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial" recognized Zhalaudi Geriev as a political prisoner. More than a dozen international human rights organizations released statements in support of Zhalaudi Geriev. The journalist was nominated for the 2017 Freedom of Expression Award. On April 5, 2017, the Presidium of the Supreme Court (SC) of Chechnya upheld the verdict, but excluded the charge for the illegal purchase of drugs on a large scale. On April 30, 2019, Zhalaudi Geriev was released, having fully served his sentence.
Zhalaudi Geriev was born in the village of Kurchaloi in the Shali District of Chechnya on June 13, 1993. He lived in the Mairtup village in the Kurchaloi District of the republic. He graduated from the Faculty of History of the Chechen State University. Starting from February 2014, he worked as a correspondent of the "Caucasian Knot".
On April 16, 2016, in Chechnya, Zhalaudi Geriev was kidnapped by law enforcers when he was heading for the airport. Eyewitnesses reported that armed people forced Zhalaudi Geriev out of a bus, hit him to his head, and pushed him into their car.
Zhalaudi Geriev said that his backpack was taken away, and later, drugs were found inside it. The journalist was forced to sign a protocol stating that he collected marijuana and kept it at home.
The law enforcers took the journalist to a forest, tied his hands with a wire, put a plastic bag on his head, and interrogated him. He was accused of activities against the authorities of Chechnya.
At trial, Zhalaudi Geriev retracted his testimony given during the investigation and stated that he had given it under pressure.
On September 5, 2016, the court sentenced Zhalaudi Geriev to three years of imprisonment on the charge of illegal drug possession. According to investigators, in August 2015, the defendant collected hemp, and on April 16, 2016, he went with drugs to the outskirts of the Kurchaloi village to use them there, and was detained in an area of the cemetery.
Zhalaudi Geriev's defence believes that the prosecutors' version was not confirmed during the trial.
The "Caucasian Knot" considers the criminal case against Zhalaudi Geriev as fabricated. The absence of direct evidence of the Zhalaudi Geriev's guilt and the pressure on him during the investigation give reason to believe that the criminal prosecution is related to his professional activities.
FSB officers' visit
In September 2016, two FSB officers visited Zhalaudi Geriev at the SIZO (pre-trial prison). "They made it clear to me that [...] with my consent to cooperate, they can help me. In exchange, they demanded to disclose the information about the internal policy of the editorial board and possibility to influence the policy of the 'Caucasian Knot'," said Zhalaudi Geriev. However, no agreement was reached between him and the FSB officers. "I replied that I always wrote and would write the truth and that the 'Caucasian Knot' never worked in anyone's interests," Zhalaudi Geriev concluded.
Actions in support of Zhalaudi Geriev
The Zhalaudi Geriev's case attracted the attention of the Russian and British media. Statements in support of Zhalaudi Geriev were released by the Russian Union of Journalists, as well as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders (RWB), Freedom House, Civil Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders, Article 19, Free Press Unlimited, HRW, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
The British human rights organization Index on Censorship nominated Zhalaudi Geriev for the 2017 Freedom of Expression Award set up to honour courage in the fight against censorship.
The US and EU missions to the OSCE expressed their concerns about the prosecution of the journalist.
On February 8, 2018, the European Parliament mentioned Zhalaudi Geriev in its resolution on human rights violations in Chechnya and Russia.
Consideration of complaint filed to Chechen SC
On November 23, the Supreme Court (SC) of Chechnya sent to the investigating authorities a Zhalaudi Geriev's complaint about his kidnapping.
On April 5, 2017, the Presidium of the Chechen SC upheld the verdict, but excluded the sentence on the charge for the illegal purchase of drugs on a large scale.
In June 2017, the Zhalaudi Geriev's defence filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
On December 1, 2017, the Supreme Court of Russia dismissed a request to send for cassation consideration an appeal filed by Zhalaudi Geriev against the verdict in the case on drug trafficking.
On September 18, 2018, the Naursky District Court decided to release Zhalaudi Geriev on parole. However, on September 28, Maxim Dushin, Deputy Prosecutor of the Republic, appealed against this decision. On November 8, the Supreme Court of Chechnya overturned the ruling on Geriev. According to the lawyer Alaudi Musaev, the reason for the cancellation of the decision was not Dushin's arguments, but a procedural error.
Shortly before Geriev's release, the administration of the colony in Chernokozovo, where the journalist served his sentence, considered that he had violated the regime by refusing to leave the cell due to health problems when the FSIN officers came there. On March 22, 2019, Geriev was placed for 15 days in a punishment cell.
On April 30, 2019, Zhalaudi Geriev was released, having served fully a three-year prison term.