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Azerbaijan Should Free Abducted Journalist

Afgan Mukhtarli Had Sought Safety in Georgia

Afgan Mukhtarli. © Meydan TV

A month ago, Azerbaijani journalist and political activist Afgan Mukhtarli vanished from the center of Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, a few blocks from his family’s apartment. Mukhtarli had been living in exile – several hundred kilometers from Azerbaijan – since 2015. That evening he had met a friend, picked up some bread on the way home, and called his wife, who is also a journalist. He never made it home.

Less than 24 hours later, he resurfaced in Azerbaijani border police custody, facing fabricated charges of illegal border crossing, smuggling, and violently resisting authorities. An Azerbaijani court promptly returned him to custody for three months, pending investigation.

Mukhtarli, his wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, and their 3-year-old daughter, moved to Georgia to escape Azerbaijan’s vicious crackdown against critics of the government. Mukhtarli’s reporting exposed corruption in Azerbaijan’s defense ministry. He also reported on the extensive business networks owned by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his affiliates in neighboring Georgia. Such reporting doesn’t go unpunished in Azerbaijan.

While in Azerbaijani custody, Mukhtarli told his lawyer that unidentified men, some wearing Georgian police uniforms and speaking Georgian, stopped him near his house, put a bag over his head, pushed him into a car, and beat him while they drove away. Mukhtarli also said his captors changed vehicles twice, and that the assailants in the second vehicle spoke Azeri and brought him to an Azerbaijani border checkpoint, where someone planted and “discovered” €10,000 on him. This became basis for the smuggling charges.

Although Georgian authorities promptly launched an investigation into the abduction, they have made little progress. The Tbilisi City Court refused to recognize Mukhtarli as a crime victim, which would allow closer scrutiny of the investigation. High-level officials deny the Georgian government’s involvement in the incident, but the lack of detailed findings after a month of investigation make these assurances ring hollow.

On June 15, the European Parliament adopted an urgent resolution strongly condemning Mukhtarli’s prosecution in Azerbaijan, calling for his release, and urging Georgia to investigate and “bring the perpetrators to justice.” The European Court of Human Rights is also reviewing Mukhtarli’s case as a priority and has already communicated questions to the authorities.

The governments of Azerbaijan and Georgia share responsibility for Mukhtarli’s fate. Azerbaijan should immediately release him and allow his reunification with his family in Georgia. And Georgia should ensure a prompt and credible investigation, and appropriately prosecute all those responsible, regardless of nationality or official position.

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