Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who had investigated government corruption, fled the country in fear in 2014 and travelled to Georgia. On 29 May 2017 Mukhtarli vanished while in Tbilisi and reappeared the following day back in Azerbaijan. He was charged with illegally crossing a state border, smuggling and resisting a representative of the government using violence.
“Afgan Mukhtarli’s case is a shocking example of how journalists are treated in Azerbaijan,” Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship, said. “The European Parliament has urged the European Union to ensure that Azerbaijan frees its political prisoners before negotiations on a new partnership deal between the EU and Azerbaijan are concluded and specifically mentioned Afgan Mukhtarli. It is very important that the EU takes a strong line on this in the talks.”
The European Parliament passed a resolution on 15 June 2017 condemning Mukhtarli’s abduction, urging Georgian authorities to investigate and expressing concern at Azerbaijan targeting critics living in exile. Additionally, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe general rapporteur on media freedom and the safety of journalists expressed concern on 20 June 2017.
After more than a year in detention, Mukhtarli was sentenced on 12 January 2018 to six years in prison. This ruling was upheld on appeal on 18 September 2018. Mukhtarli told his lawyer that unidentified men wearing Georgian criminal police uniforms were present when he was pushed into a car, beaten and driven to the Azerbaijani border. The sum of €10,000 was planted on Mukhtarli when he was apprehended. Georgian authorities launched an investigation but have not made progress and refuse to recognise Mukhtarli as a victim of a crime.
Mukhtarli’s sentence and treatment while in detention have been condemned by the US Department of State, Amnesty International, OSCE media freedom representative Desir and the European External Action Service, who call for his release.
At the time of his abduction, Mukhtarli had been investigating business links between Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev and former Georgian prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. He accused the Georgian authorities of being complicit, stating that “without the permission of the prime minister, they would not have been able to get me across the border”.