The Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Paris-based rights watchdog group, released a statement on August 29, three months after the disappearance and subsequent detention of Tbilisi-based Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, reiterating its condemnation of “Azerbaijan’s persecution of independent journalists like Mukhtarli, who was living in exile in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, when kidnapped on 29 May.”
“Afgan Mukhtarli’s detention is a disgrace for both Azerbaijan and Georgia,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Not only is no one able to explain how it began, but now it is being extended in defiance of the most elementary humanitarian principles."
“We again appeal to the Azerbaijani authorities to free this journalist at once and to drop the trumped-up charges brought against him. And the Georgian authorities must shed all possible light on how he came to be abducted.”
The ongoing investigation in Georgia into Mukhtarli’s case, the organization also said, “has drawn a blank although several members of the Georgian security services were fired.” “Surveillance camera recordings near the scene of the abduction were mysteriously tampered with,” reads the statement.
Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli went missing from Tbilisi on May 29. A day later he appeared in a detention facility in Baku after being arrested on charges of illegal border crossing, smuggling money and police disobedience.
Mukhtarli’s wife Leyla Mustafayeva and his friends claim that the investigative journalist known for reporting on the corruption of Azerbaijani authorities was abducted by Georgian law enforcers.
The investigation has been launched by the Ministry of Internal Affairs under Article 143 of the Criminal Code on unlawful imprisonment.
Despite multiple demands, the Georgian government has yet to uncover the facts identified in the course of the investigation. The Georgian Interior Ministry and the prosecutor’s office claim that they still have not obtained Mukhtarli’s testimony and are waiting for the Azerbaijani government’s permit in this respect.
The President of Georgia, opposition parties, journalists, civil society organizations and international organizations also commented on the journalist’s disappearance and subsequent arrest in Azerbaijan, slamming the Government of Georgia for its handling of the investigation.
On June 15, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Mukhtarli’s case, condemning “the prosecution of Afgan Mukhtarli following bogus charges” and calling “on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against and release Afgan Mukhtarli.” The resolution also urges the Georgian authorities to ensure “a prompt, thorough, transparent and effective investigation into Afgan Mukhtarli’s forced disappearance in Georgia and illegal transfer to Azerbaijan.”
On June 27, President Giorgi Margvelashvili met with Afgan Mukhtarli’s wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, to get acquainted with recent developments on the matter, and promised to conduct constant monitoring over the case.