What Mukhtarli’s case has proved" />

Georgia no longer a ‘beacon of democracy’

What Mukhtarli’s case has proved

It’s already been the fifth day since the Azerbaijani opposition journalist, Afgan Mukhtarli disappeared from Georgia and later found in a Baku jail.

Meanwhile, the main question still remains unanswered: how did a renowned journalist, who went missing in Tbilisi, end up in Baku? How did he cross the state border without his passport, which has been in Tbilisi up to now?

Who is behind Mukhtarli’s abduction? Where Georgian special services aware of the aforesaid and did they coordinate their actions with the Azerbaijani side? Or did Mukhtarli’s abduction come as a surprise to Georgian law-enforcers?

There is so far no answer to any of the aforesaid questions.

The statements made in Tbilisi raises more fear and doubts, rather than throw light on the case.

The Azerbaijani authorities claim it was Mukhtarli who illegally crossed into Azerbaijan and smuggled EUR 10,000 across the border, with the Georgian side repeating the same.

Speaking at a briefing in Tbilisi yesterday, the Georgian Interior Minister, Giorgi Mgebrishvili, advised journalists to refrain from discrediting Georgian public institutions and avoid partial interpretation of the incident.

Mgebrishvili didn’t present any additional details to journalists, either the CCTV video records from the border or any other details that would shed light on how Mukhtarli crossed the border.

Moreover, Mgebrishvili’s statement has raised one more question: ‘The Minister said there was a slight chance that one could cross the Georgian border without the border guards’ control. So, does it mean that Georgian borders are not adequately defended?’ – the journalists wondered yesterday.

The Georgian Prime-Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, stated the same thing. In his words, the public should refrain from making hasty conclusions and should wait for the results of the Azerbaijani side’s investigation.

Meanwhile, Georgian journalists and NGO members are raising the alarm. They believe that Mukhtarlis’ case is a serious precedent that affects the country’s image considerably. Georgia, which is a leader in terms of protection of human rights in the region, is going to lose this position.

Also, Mukhtarli’s lawyer is going to bring the case before the Strasbourg-based Court, and Georgia would stand as a respondent party alongside the Azerbaijani government.

Is Georgia a hostage of Azerbaijan and Turkey?

Georgian experts believe that today Georgia is a major disadvantaged party in Mukhtarli’s case. The future and international image of the whole of Georgia is linked to the particular journalist’s case. Georgia will either thoroughly investigate the circumstances of the journalist’s disappearance from Tbilisi and punish the guilty, or will get involved in the game of its authoritarian neighbour.

Azerbaijan and Turkey are Georgia’s key partners and neighbours. Azerbaijani energy resources have become an alternative to the Russian ones for Georgia. There are some important energy projects that Georgia is implementing jointly with Turkey and Azerbaijan, and this makes the interests of the aforesaid three countries tightly linked to each other. In addition, Turkey is a major trading partner of Georgia.

However, this strategic friendship, that made Georgia energy-independent from Russia, also poses serious risk to the country: the authoritarian regimes in Turkey and Azerbaijan try to drag Georgia into a battle against their political opponents. As for Tbilisi, it either can’t or doesn’t resist it at this stage.

Apart from Afgan Mukhtarli’s abduction case, there is also one more test that Georgia will have to undergo soon: Turkish leadership insists on extradition of Mustafa Emre Çabuk, the Demirel College manager. Çabuk was arrested in Georgia upon Turkey’s request end of May this year. Ankara views him as an associate to Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Turkish cleric who has been suspected of orchestrating a failed military coup attempt in Turkey in 2016. Turkey has been searching for Fethullah Gülen’s supporters around the world. It appealed to several European countries, requesting extradition of some of them. However, its request has been turned down. The question is, whether Georgia will say ‘no’ to Ankara or not. Çabuk’s extradition to Turkey will be a serious blow to Georgia’s international image, since there is a risk that the Turkish teacher will be subjected to torture and may even be killed in his homeland.

“Our neighbours have many levers of pressure upon Georgia, though, the more Georgia bows its head to Turkey and Azerbaijan, the more  their ‘appetite’ will grow,” said Khatuna Lagazidze, a political analyst.

In her opinion, Georgia should learn how to have equal and partnership-based relationships and defend its sovereignty, otherwise it will be blackmailed endlessly.

“Tomorrow will come and it will turn out that we are no less oppressed by Turkey than by Russia. What should we do then? Shall we rush to Russia again? Europe and European values are the only salvation for Georgia. There is no alternative to the European path,” she said.

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