Azerbaijani opposition journalist who disappeared in Georgia yesterday ‘found’ in detention in Baku
Afgan Mukhtarli, the Azerbaijani journalist who went missing in Tbilisi yesterday, is in detention in Baku facing trial on trespassing and smuggling charges, his lawyer Neimat Kerimli revealed, saying Mukhtarli had contacted him today (30 May) earlier in the evening.
Georgian authorities have “violated international norms” by allowing the handover to Azerbaijan of someone who they knew would inevitably be arrested there, Kerimli said.
He said EUR 10,000 had been planted on Mukhtarli, and that the trial had been scheduled to start tomorrow, 31 May.
Well-known investigative reporter Khadija Ismail took to Facebook to comment on the story:
“Afgan Mukhtarli said to his lawyer he was kidnapped from his neighborhood in Tbilisi yesterday. He was forced into an Opel car, hands tied and beaten. There are marks on his face and body, and suspect that a rib has been broken. The car brought him to outside of Tbilisi. There they put a bag on his head. He said that he has a heart condition and can’t breath. Then they put his shirt over his head and fixed it with plastic tape. In a deserted place they changed the car. Later the car was changed once more. People in the last car spoke Azerbaijani. When he was taken out of the car, he found himself at the border point. There they planted, and found the money – EUR 10 000 in his pocket. He is charged with 318.1 (trespassing) and 206.1 (smuggling). Afgan said that people who detained him didn’t identify themselves but looked like official law enforcement of Georgia. Lawyer Elchin Sadigov demanded forensic analysis of his body, and camera footage from the border.” (sic)
The Georgian authorities who earlier launched a countrywide search for Mukhtarli have yet to comment regarding the news that he had been ‘found’ on Azerbaijan’s territory.
The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, a local watchdog group, has called on the country’s law enforcement authorities to explain how the journalist could have crossed over the border to Azerbaijan, when his passport was still in Tbilisi.
“Because of a difficult human rights situation in the region, opposition journalists and activists have had to leave their countries, and Georgia has been to many of them a refuge, a place where they can continue pursuing their professional activities,” a statement by the Charter says. “This is why it is important that their rights be protected here. Accordingly, the government must respond to what has happened.”
The Human Rights Watch Representative in the South Caucasus, Giorgi Gogia, has told Tbilisi-based online magazine ‘Liberali’ that “if it is confirmed that the journalist has indeed been kidnapped from Tbilisi, with the result that he may now become a victim of torture and inhumane treatment and is facing a politically motivated trial, then our country is in serious trouble.”
The incident has sparked outrage on Georgian Facebook.
“The story of the Azerbaijani journalist is the most perplexing of developments that have taken place in Georgia over the past five years,” Shota Utiashvili of the European Georgia Party wrote.
Journalist Gela Mshivlishvili wrote: “The kidnapping of the Azerbaijani journalist from Tbilisi, and then his ending up in Baku, is a development that nothing can absolve, not even the Association Agreement with EU and the visa waiver.”
Journalist Eliso Janashia: “I am increasingly convinced that we have no government.”
Journalist Manana Vardiashvili: “Azerbaijani journalists have come to Georgia in the hopes of finding refuge from repressions. I am ashamed of this government.”
Her colleague Nino Zuriashvli said it was time Georgians took to the streets. “Let’s rally! I don’t know how we can live through this disgrace!”
Georgian journalists say they will be gathering outside of the chancellery building in Tbilisi at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow to demand that the government provide explanations about the incident.