“Living in Azerbaijan is my right”, journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, former prisoner of conscience, talks to JAMnews about plans for the future.
Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, known for his outspoken criticism of the authorities, emigrated from Baku to Georgia in 2014. In 2017, he was abducted in Tbilisi, and imprisoned in Baku.
The BBC Azerbaijani service reported at the time that Mukhtarli had managed to call his lawyers and say that he had been “kidnapped” and that he was in the main building of the state border service in Baku.
He was then sentenced to six years, accused of illegally crossing the border, smuggling and resisting a law enforcement official.
He served almost three years. On March 17, 2020 the court decided to replace the remainder of the term with a suspended one.
Immediately after his release, Mukhtarli flew to Germany, where his family lives in political emigration.
International human rights organizations consider Afgan Mukhtarli a prisoner of conscience.
JAMnews spoke with Afgan via Skype about his plans for the future.
- Homophobic statements made by oppositions provoke another scandal on Azerbaijani social media
- Several senior officials in Azerbaijan once again detained on corruption charges. This time – military offices
- Afterword to the elections in Azerbaijan – what went wrong and why?
- Everything about parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan in one minute video
“It would be more correct to introduce me as a journalist in exile, rather than in emigration. Emigration is often voluntary. And they replaced my arrest with exile”, says Afghan Mukhtarli.
“It would be good to return to Georgia”
Mukhtarli says that he has experience in emigration. In 2015-2017, he lived in Georgia, and he considers this period of his life as a journalist fruitful.
“I conducted an investigation regarding the business owned by the President of Azerbaijan and his relatives.”
Afgan says he was more comfortable working in Georgia than in Germany.
“In Germany, I will also be involved in journalism. Azerbaijani journalists have experience in emigration, but it would be nice for me to return to Georgia. There I can work better.”
Mukhtarli said investigative journalism is a lengthy process, and that therefore, he will also be engaged in active journalism: “I will cooperate with Azerbaijani and European media.”
“I’m undergoing medical exams”
“I lived in extreme conditions, from the age of 17 I participated in battles [meaning the Karabakh war in the early 1990s – JAMnews]. And it seriously affected my health.”
Before the arrest, Mukhtarli suffered from diabetes. In addition, he has cardiovascular problems.
“Now I’m going through an examination. May the Azerbaijani authorities not rejoice that I am sick and cannot work.”
“I have no intention of becoming a professional human rights defender”
“It is believed that journalists work in the field of human rights. We highlight the problems of those whose rights are violated, protect those who are in custody. And I will continue to do so.
But I have no intention of becoming a professional human rights defender.”
The biggest problem
In Germany, language is a problem for him. So far, it helps that his family members speak several languages.
“And it so happened that in my 50s I have to learn German. But learning a language does not mean that I am moving away from journalism. I will do this in parallel with my journalistic activities. I’ll try to ensure that in a year I don’t have problems with German.”
“The only country in the South Caucasus where there are glimmers of democracy is Georgia”
“The Georgian Prosecutor General’s Office has repeatedly stated that it failed to get an explanation from Afgan Mukhtarli. My first duty is to go to the prosecutor’s office and give these explanations.
This is a matter of principle, and the Georgian government must answer for the crime. This is the fault of the entire government of Kvirikashvili [former prime minister – JAMnews] led by Ivanishvili [leader of the Georgian Dream party – JAMnews].
I won’t leave it like that. And not just for myself. Georgia was the only country in the South Caucasus with glimpses of democracy. If this crime is not solved and the people who committed it are not punished, fertile ground will be created for such lawlessness.”
Mukhtarli says that democratic societies should be built in all states of the South Caucasus, and journalists should not be abducted and arrested.
“I never wanted to move to Europe”
Mukhtarli says that although from 2003 to the present he had the opportunity to move to Europe, he did not.
“I joined the national liberation movement at the age of 15, and at 17 I fought for the sovereignty of the country. And I have more rights to live in Azerbaijan than Ilham Aliyev or any official who has expelled me,” Mukhtarli says.
Full record of the video interview with Afgan Mukhtarli in Azerbaijani