The trial of journalist Afgan Mukhtarli commences in Azerbaijan
The trial of opposition journalist Afgan Mukhtarli began on 30 November in the Belokansky region of Azerbaijan. Mukhtarli has been accused of illegal border crossing and smuggling ten thousand euros in cash across the Azerbaijani-Georgian border.
The Belokan region is located 440 kilometers north-west of Baku. Such a remote place for the trial has been chosen because Afghan Mukhtarli’s official residence borders Georgia in the Zakatal district of Azerbaijan.
“There is no reliable evidence that Mukhtarli illegally crossed the Georgian-Azerbaijani border and smuggled money. Everything in the investigation is based on unfounded allegations,” said his lawyer, Nemat Kerimli. At the preparatory hearing, the lawyer petitioned for the termination of the criminal case.
Afghan Mukhtarli, who had been living in Georgia for the last three years, disappeared in Tbilisi on 29 May 2017. The next day, the journalist informed his lawyer that he had been brought to Baku by force. On 31 May, a court in Azerbaijan ruled to arrest Mukhtarli. The journalist is rejecting all charges brought against him: accusations of violating state borders, smuggling, and resisting border guards. Local and international human rights defenders have recognized Mukhtarli as a political prisoner. His colleagues are convinced that he is being persecuted for his critical publications on corruption in the highest echelons of power in Azerbaijan.
The defence also asked for an examination to be performed on the banknotes allegedly seized form the journalist. “An examination may reveal fingerprints of customs officers on the money,” his lawyer said to a correspondent of the Turan agency.
He also petitioned to be granted access to video footage from both the official border crossing point and the military unit where they brought Mukhtarli.
“The journalist was transported through the official border checkpoint therefore his vehicle should be on record,” said his lawyer.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili stated the following regarding Mukhtarli’s abduction in Georgia: “The disappearance of a person is a serious challenge to state sovereignty. The state should protect its prestige and ensure the security of its citizens. All of this is very important,” Margvelashvili told an InterviewNews correspondent on 31 May.
The court left them dissatisfied at the preliminary session. All of the defense’s petitions, except Mukhtarli’s request to sit next to his lawyer, were denied.
The court has accepted the case and proceedings, and ordered a hearing at 10:30am on 14 December.