Speaking at a Government session on June 1, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili called for avoiding premature conclusions over the case of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who went missing on May 29 from Tbilisi and appeared in a detention facility in Baku a day later.
“I understand full well the concerns of our citizens and human rights organizations, but I also would like to stress that it is unacceptable to make premature conclusions, more so, the discreditation of security agencies,” the Prime Minister stated.
“If we reduce trust towards state institutions, it will be harder to protect the security of our country,” the Prime Minister added.
The Prime Minister called on the law enforcement agencies “to do everything to investigate the case within the shortest time possible, so that no one in the country has questions on the state of human rights protection in the country.”
PM Kvirikashvili noted that the “speculations” over Mukhtarli’s alleged handing by Georgian security agencies to Azerbaijani authorities is “absolutely inadmissible.” “I rule out the involvement of [Georgian] state institutions in any such activity,” he said.
PM Kvirikashvili also said that the investigation is underway and that the Government is also communicating with Azerbaijani authorities on the matter.
Interior Minister Giorgi Mgebrishvili commented on Afgan Mukhtarli’s case as well, repeating the Prime Minister’s calls to refrain from premature conclusions.
Speaking at his special press briefing on June 1, Mgebrishvili said the Azerbaijani side informed Tbilisi that Mukhtarli was arrested by Azerbaijani border guards for illegal border crossing into Belaqani District (North-Western Azerbaijan) and for smuggling a large amount of undeclared currency from Georgia to Azerbaijan.
“We would like to inform the society that the Georgian Border Police carries out border control in line with contemporary standards, which entails patrolling of the so called green lines along with the crossing points,” Mgebrishvili noted.
The Interior Minister then added that “the probability that a person may cross at any location bypassing border guards is low, though it still exists.” “Our Azerbaijani counterparts claim that this was exactly the case with respect to Afgan Mukhtarli. This is the only official and legally justified circumstance.”
“According to media reports, Afgan Mukhtarli had pre-planned to bypass the border [crossing point] and that this was not the first time: he was regularly smuggling undeclared currency to Azerbaijan,” Mgebrishvili went on.
Mgebrishvili then noted that the Georgian side could “neither confirm, nor reject” the reports: “the investigation has yet to ascertain the authenticity of this version, also whether the Azerbaijani side had any preliminary information and whether this particular section of the border was under intensified control.”
At the same time, Mgebrishvili added, “Mukhtarli’s wife, Azerbaijani journalist and activist Leila Mustafayeva and lawyer Elchin Sadikov have voiced a different version: in the words of the latter, Mukhtarli was forcefully abducted from Tbilisi … the lawyer alleges that the abductors may have been from Georgian security services.”
The Interior Minister said that “certain persons picked up the version and started disseminating it without any factual evidence and substantiation.” “We understand the emotional attitudes of some of our citizens and organizations on this issue, but despite such attitudes we deem it inadmissible to make preliminary conclusions on the case and especially the attempts to discredit the agencies responsible for the country’s security.”
In the words of Giorgi Mgebrishvili, Georgia is “a legal, democratic country, which aspires towards European and Euro-Atlantic structures, shares their values, and recognizes the rule of law.” “Therefore, I declare with full responsibility that the Georgian law enforcement agencies have and can have nothing to do with this version of the case.”
He also noted that the Georgian government “has never expressed any interest in the attitude of ethnic Azerbaijani’s living in Georgia towards the Azerbaijani government,” and that the Azerbaijani side “has never applied to the Georgian Interior Ministry with an official or unofficial request with respect to restricting Azerbaijani citizens’ rights on political grounds or their forced return to their homeland.”
Mgebrishvili added that Mukhtarli “had never applied to relevant agencies with security concerns.”
According to the Interior Minister, “it is unfair” to accuse the Georgian or the Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies based “solely” on the statements of Mukhtarli’s lawyer and the media reports. “It is in Georgia’s interest, in the first place, not to leave any questions unaddressed,” Mgebrishvili concluded.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia said in its brief statement on May 31 that the investigation was launched under Article 143 of the Criminal Code involving unlawful imprisonment.