Index on Censorship is extremely concerned at the news of journalist Afgan Mukhtarli being detained and facing prosecution in Azerbaijan after being disappeared from Georgia.
Freelance Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli was reported missing in Tbilisi, Georgia on the evening of 29 May by his wife Leyla Mustafayeva. Eurasianet reported that Mustafayeva said that her husband last called her when he was just a few blocks away from their home, but he never showed up.
The Georgian police stated on 30 May that a search was underway for the journalist, but later, the independent Azeri news agency Turan reported that the Azerbaijani border service department detained Mukhtarli.
Independent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova confirmed that Mukhtarli was kidnapped from his neighbourhood where he was forced into a car, his hands were tied and he was beaten. Mukhtarli sustained serious injuries. His lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, told the Committee to Protect Journalists: “He was beaten, has a broken nose, bruises all over his head and right eye, his rib may be broken.”
He was then taken across the border into Azerbaijan by car without his passport.
Mukhtarli is being charged with trespassing, smuggling and resistance to law-enforcement (violations of Articles 318.1, 206.1 and 315.2 of the criminal code), his lawyer confirmed. The Azerbaijani police also claim Mukhtarli was in possession of 10,000 EUR during the police search.
“Georgia has long been perceived as a safe haven for Azerbaijani dissidents, but the disappearance of Afgan Mukhtarli and other incidents are deeply concerning,” Melody Patry, Index’s head of advocacy said. “The charges brought by Azerbaijan’s prosecutors against Mukhtarli are spurious and Index calls for his immediate and unconditional release. We further call on the Georgian authorities to swiftly investigate the kidnapping of the journalist.”
Mukhtarli, who has contributed to various independent outlets, including Meydan TV, fled to Georgia from Azerbaijan in 2015, after receiving threats over his investigative reporting on corruption in the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry.
Twelve days before, the journalist said in an interview with independent online news outlet Jam News, that he and his wife, who is also a journalist and an activist, were both under surveillance.