Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who went missing from Tbilisi on May 29 and appeared in a detention facility in Baku a day later, was sentenced to six years in prison by Belaqani District Court in North-Western Azerbaijan.
The prosecution, which was accusing Mukhtarli of illegal border crossing, smuggling money and police disobedience, demanded eight-year imprisonment, but the court sentenced him to six years in jail.
Mukhtarli’s defense lawyers condemned the Azerbaijani journalist’s arrest as “politically motivated” and demanded his acquittal. They also said the detainee did not cross the border voluntarily and that he was kidnapped from Georgia.
Speaking at the court hearing on January 12, Mukhtarli said his persecution was due to his journalistic and investigative activities into Azerbaijani government’s corrupt deals. “You can arrest or kill us, but others will continue the struggle. Our goal is not to overthrow Ilham Aliyev, but to give people hope,” Radio Liberty quoted him as saying.
Mukhtarli’s wife, Azerbaijani journalist and activist Leila Mustafayeva commented on the matter as well, calling the verdict “a joint decision of Georgian and Azerbaijani authorities, since the Georgian Dream’s government led by Prime Minister Kvirikashvili, is complicit in Afgan’s arrest and imprisonment.” “It was a crime organized in Georgia and continued in Azerbaijan,” Mustafayeva said in her Facebook post.
Levan Asatiani, Amnesty International’s Regional Campaigner on South Caucasus, said Afgan Mukhtarli “is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released.”
The U.S. Department of State expressed its concern as well. “We urge the government of Azerbaijan to release Mr. Mukhtarli and all those incarcerated for exercising their fundamental freedoms,” reads the statement released on January 12.
“We continue to closely follow the Georgian investigation into the reported abduction, and reiterate our call that it be full, transparent, and timely,” the Department of State also said.
U.S. is disturbed by Jan. 12 sentencing of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli. We urge #Azerbaijanâ€™s government to release Mr. Mukhtarli. We continue to follow the Georgian investigation into the reported abduction and reiterate our call that it be full, transparent & timely. pic.twitter.com/hQjF1utZMP
— Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) January 12, 2018
Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli went missing from Tbilisi on May 29. A day later he appeared in a detention facility in Baku arrested on charges of illegal border crossing, smuggling money and police disobedience.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili, opposition parties, journalists, civil society organizations and international organizations have slammed the Government of Georgia for its handling of the case and the investigation.
Mukhtarli’s wife Leyla Mustafayeva, who stayed in Tbilisi for several months after Mukhtarli’s detention and urged the Georgian government, on numerous occasions, to effectively investigate the case, left the country for Europe in early October.
Speaking to the parliamentary opposition during the parliamentary confidence vote hearings last December, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said: “This is a very difficult issue and we acknowledge that it was a very serious failure.”