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Afgan Mukhtarli Released from Azerbaijani Jail

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On March 17, Afgan Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani journalist who went missing from the Georgian capital Tbillisi on May 29, 2017 and resurfaced a day later under arrest in Baku, has been released from custody.

Mukhtarli was sentenced to six years in prison into charges of illegal border crossing, smuggling money and police disobedience by Belaqani District Court in North-Western Azerbaijan in January 2018.

His defense lawyers had condemned the Azerbaijani journalist’s arrest as “politically motivated” and demanded his acquittal, saying the detainee did not cross the border voluntarily and that he was kidnapped from Georgia.

Then Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili, opposition parties, journalists, civil society organizations and international community had slammed the Government of Georgia for its handling of the case and the investigation.

Welcoming Mukhtarli’s released today, Harlem Désir, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media wrote on Twitter that the former is “on his way to Germany and will be able to reunite with his wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, and daughter.”

Levan Asatiani, the Regional Campaigner on Eurasia at Amnesty International’s International Secretariat in London also stated that Mukhtarli was “a prisoner of conscience and should have never spent a day in jail.” “[It is] disappointing that Georgia still hasn’t investigated his abduction in Tbilisi,” Asatiani tweeted.

Background

On May 30, 2017, Amnesty International reported that Afgan Mukhtarli, Tbilisi-based journalist had gone missing a day before. “Mukhtarli is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment after resurfacing in custody across the border in Baku, Azerbaijan”, it said, condemning a “harrowing cross-border abduction.”

Amnesty International insisted that the Georgian authorities were complicit in Mukhtarli’s kidnapping and forced return to Azerbaijan. The Georgian Ministry of Interior soon launched inquiry to ascertain factual circumstances.

In July 2017, Prosecutor General’s Office took over the investigation, as senior security officials responsible for border control and counterintelligence got sacked. The case has been dragging on since, without an outcome.

In May 2018, prior to his resignation, Prosecutor General Irakli Shotadze announced that Georgian investigatory bodies had interviewed scores of witnesses and examined a batch of CCTV recordings. However, Shotadze said, “no evidence was obtained to elucidate the public of what [really] happened.”

For two consecutive years, U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report has been raising concerns over the handling of Mukhtarli’s case by the Georgian authorities.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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