BAKU, Azerbaijan (A.W.)— Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afghan Mukhtarli, who vanished from Tbilisi, Georgia on May 29, is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment in Baku.
Mukhtarli was found on May 30 in Baku and put in Azerbaijani custody after what he described to his lawyer as a cross-border abduction, according to Amnesty International.
According to activists and his lawyer, Mukhtarli is in the custody of the Investigative Unit of the State Border Service of Azerbaijan. His wife had reported him missing on May 29. The couple had gone into exile in Georgia in 2015 amid fears for their safety over his investigations into Azerbaijani President Illham Aliyev’s alleged links to corruption.
“This is a deeply sinister development in a country known for its long crackdown on journalists and human rights defenders,” said Levan Asatiani, Amnesty International’s Campaigner on the South Caucasus, who is currently in Tbilisi. “Afgan Mukhtarli must be immediately and unconditionally released and protected from torture and other ill-treatment.”
Asatiani stressed that Mukhtarli has been detained solely for his work as a journalist.
After briefly speaking to Mukhtarli in Baku, his lawyer stated that Mukhtarli was abducted in Tbilisi by plain clothed men who spoke Georgian. The men tied up the journalist in the car, took him to the outskirts of Tbilisi and beat him. They then changed cars twice before taking him across the Azerbaijani border.
Mukhtarli added that as they crossed the border, 10,000 euros were placed into his pockets, so that Azerbaijani police could charge him with trespassing and smuggling. Ill-treatment continued in Azerbaijan according to the journalist.
“It seems that the Georgian authorities were also complicit in Afgan Mukhtarli’s abduction and forced return to Azerbaijan,” said Asatiani. “His family told Amnesty International that he has often been followed by Azerbaijani-speaking men on the streets of Tbilisi, indicating that he has been under surveillance for some time.”
Asatiani called on the Georgian government to investigate what happened and to hold those who were responsible accountable.
Meanwhile following Mukhtarli’s resurfacing in Baku, both the Georgian Ombudsman and the Interior Ministry released statements on the matter.
On May 30, the Public Defender of Georgia called on Georgian law enforcement to urgently respond to the case in order to bring justice and punish those responsible. He added that the Georgian government should ensure the full protection of the rights of all people living in the country.
“All persons living in Georgia should have a sense of security and lawful and fair treatment,” read a part of the statement. “There should be no suspicion that the state turns a blind eye to a crime or neglects the disappearance of Afgan Mukhtarli.
On May 31, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs launched an investigation, according to their statement.
“In connection with the case of Azerbaijani journalist, Afgan Mukhtarli, Ministry of Internal Affairs has launched investigation on the fact of illegal restriction of freedom, article 143 of the Criminal Code,” read the statement.
The Georgian authorities have begun communication with Azerbaijan to address the matter and to provide further information.