Abdulmumin Gadzhiev, the religious affairs editor of the independent weekly Chernovik, was arrested Friday in the Caspian Sea province of Dagestan. The case comes shortly after the arrest of Moscow journalist Ivan Golunov on drug charges, which were dropped for lack of evidence last week amid public outrage.
Following the example of Russia's three top business newspapers that put out front pages to support Golunov, Chernovik and two other newspapers in Dagestan said Wednesday they would publish a joint editorial under the headline "I am/We are Abdulmumin Gadzhiev."
Authorities have accused the editor of involvement in a terrorist organization and financing terrorism — charges based on testimony from another suspect who said it was extracted by torture. Investigators alleged he sent money to charities suspected of funding the Islamic State group and other militants. Gadzhiev, who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, denied the accusations.
The Chernovik weekly dismissed the charges as "absurd and unfounded" and described them as part of the official crackdown on news outlets in the region. In 2011, the newspaper's founder, Khadzhimurad Kamalov, was shot and killed in Dagestan. The murder has remained unsolved.
Media freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged Russian authorities to free Gadzhiev. It noted that a suspect who had testified against Gadzhiev appeared badly bruised in court on Tuesday and retracted his statement, saying that police used force to extract the testimony. Police haven't responded to the allegations of torture.
"You cannot imprison a journalist on the basis of testimony extracted under torture," Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement. "If the police are unable to produce any convincing evidence against Abdulmumin Gadzhiev, they must free him at once and drop all proceedings against him."