The brazen kidnapping of investigative reporter Afgan Mukhtarli (left)from downtown Tbilisi and his forced delivery to Azerbaijan to face trial has outraged many Georgians, who view it as a crude violation of sovereignty and a spineless reaction, if not craven connivance, on the part of their government, Giorgi Lomsadze writes for Eurasianet.
“Short of a declaration of war, I can’t think of a worse way to violate national sovereignty,” said Ana Natsvlishvili, chairperson of rule of law watchdog Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association.
Georgian authorities today (1 June) denied involvement in the abduction.
‘I understand the concerns of our human rights organisations, but I would like to say that their preliminary conclusions are unacceptable’, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili told journalists, urging them to wait for the conclusion of the official investigation. ‘It is unacceptable to discredit caring state institutions’, Kvirikashvili added.
Mukhtarli, who is also a civil rights activist, had been living in neighboring Georgia for two years. His lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, told The Associated Press the journalist was abducted outside his home Monday evening, beaten up and taken to the land border between Azerbaijan and Georgia. Sadigov claimed that the journalist’s captors planted 10,000 euros ($11,180) on him, which led to the charges.
On May 31, Azerbaijani authorities pressed additional charges against Mukhtarli, accusing him of violently resisting a law enforcement official, and the Sabail district court of Baku sent him for three months of pretrial detention, Human Rights Watch adds:
Mukhtarli and his wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, also an investigative journalist, have been living in Georgia since 2015 to escape the Azerbaijani government’s vicious crackdown against its critics. There are fears that Mukhtarli faces the imminent threat of ill-treatment in custody.
“Mukhtarli went to Georgia seeking safety, but it seems he was not far enough out of the Azerbaijani government’s clutches,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “The Georgian government also shares responsibility for his fate and should come clean about its role in his illegal detention and return.”
Georgia has long been an oasis for dissidents from neighbouring Azerbaijan. But with Baku investing in its western neighbour at record levels, observers are asking are they still safe?
In December 2016, he spoke to the author of this article about his fears that something might one day happen to him. Many other native Azerbaijanis living in Georgia and other countries have complained of being under the surveillance of the Azerbaijani state.
Turncoats have not helped their cause. On May 4, an online platform founded by a former Azerbaijani political prisoner who re-invented himself as a government mouthpiece published a list of Azerbaijanis who have lived or currently live in Georgia: Mukhtarli’s name was on it.
“This is a deeply sinister development in a country known for its long crackdown on journalists and human rights defenders. Afgan Mukhtarli must be immediately and unconditionally released and protected from torture and other ill-treatment. He is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for his work as a journalist,” said Levan Asatiani, Amnesty International’s Campaigner on the South Caucasus, who is currently in Tbilisi.