Azerbaijan Sentences Kidnapped Opposition Journalist to Prison
12 January, 2018

A court in Azerbaijan has sentenced an Azerbaijani journalist illegally kidnapped in Georgia to six years in prison.

Afgan Mukhtarli stood accused of illegally crossing the Azerbaijani border, smuggling contraband, and resisting arrest — charges widely understood to be falsified. Initially, the prosecutor requested Mukhtarli be sentenced to eight years in prison, while the defense requested he be acquitted.

After the verdict was announced, Mukhtarli’s supporters in the court’s gallery erupted in roar of indignation and began to sing the Azerbaijani national anthem, the Cauacasian Knot news site reported.

Mukhtarli’s criminal sentence is “a mockery of justice,” Giorgi Gogia, the South Caucasus Director at Human Rights Watch, wrote in a tweet.

Mukhtarli relocated to Tbilisi, Georgia in 2014 to escape political pressure in his home country. Then, on May 29, 2017, Mukhtarli disappeared while returning to his home in the Georgian capital. When he failed to return home, his wife contacted the police and the media.

A few hours later, however, Mukhtarli was located — in jail in Baku. According to his Azerbaijani lawyer, the dissident had been forcibly dragged into a car and taken across the border into Azerbaijan.

Muktharli’s abduction suggested that the Georgian government, known for its pro-Western political orientation, had tacitly assisted its neighbors in Baku. At the time of his arrest, Mukhtarli was investigating the business interests of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev in Georgia, his wife told reporters at a press conference.

But the Azerbaijani authorities told a different story. They alleged that Mukhtarli had illegally crossed the border onto Azerbaijani territory while in possession of 10 thousand euros.

In June, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the Georgian authorities to investigate Mukhtarli’s kidnapping and the Azerbaijani authorities to free him. Amnesty International has recognized the journalist as a prisoner of conscience.

/By Matthew Kupfer