NGOs Call For Investigation into Journalist's Kidnapping

Georgian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) expressed concern over the kidnapping of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli from Tbilisi. Mukhtarli was later found in Baku.

The NGOs have many questions, saying it is very suspicious that the person was not detained at Georgia-Azerbaijan Border.

Afgan Mukhtarli was a political migrant who left Azerbaijan three years ago. In Tbilisi, he has held protests in front of Azerbaijan’s embassy and recently wrote about the persecution of Azerbaijani activists in Georgia.

The civil sector called on the government to publish an official statement that will answer all questions over the issue in a timely manner. NGOs also requested the protection of rights and freedom of movement and immunity of the IDP activists from neighboring countries, journalists, politicians and other persons. They requested a timely and effective investigation of the case and called on the Prosecutor’s Office to make information regarding the case public.

Afgan Mukhtarli disappeared on May 29 and his family reported his disappearance to the police. On May 30 the journalist was found in the Baku police department. Mukhtarli told his lawyer that he was detained and forced into a car near his house in Tbilisi by Georgian Special Service officers. He said that he was beaten and 10,000 euros were planted on him. The Azerbaijani authorities accused him of illegal border crossing and smuggling.

The journalist’s wife, Leila Mustafayeva, says she has her husband’s passport and believes that he was abducted by Azerbaijan’s secret services and forcibly taken across the Georgian-Azerbaijani border. She added that it would be impossible to transfer Mukhtarli to Azerbaijan without cooperation from the Georgian authorities. He was investigating the Aliyev family’s business in Georgia. We moved to this country because of persecution and we should have been protected, we request an objective investigation,” she said.

Georgian journalists and NGOs held a protest rally at the government's administrative building on Wednesday. They demanded an answer to the question of how the journalist got into the hands of Azerbaijani law enforcement and whether or not the Georgian special services participated in his removal from the country.

Ucha Nanuashvili, Public Defender of Georgia, says that the relevant state structures should be held responsible. "It is a very sad and alarming fact when a person disappears in the center of the city and then we learn that he is a victim of torture and ill-treatment in another neighboring state. The relevant state structures should be held responsible with regard to the case. I mean political responsibility,” he said. He says that this incident raises doubts that people are protected in Georgia.

The opposition parties assign all responsibility to the government and state institutions. Akaki Minashvili from the United National Movement (UNM) said that the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party failed to build a safe country. “Georgian Dream has brought to Georgia chaos, instability, destabilization, and none of the citizens of Georgia is protected,” he said.

This fact proves that the law enforcement agencies in Georgia are weak. The government will have to answer questions,” said Tengiz Gunava, a member of the European Georgia party.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of Georgia launched an investigation under Article 143 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which regards cases pertaining to illegal deprivation of liberty. As soon as the factual circumstances are established, society will be provided with detailed information," the statement reads.

Vakhtang Gomelauri, the head of the State Safety Service, also commented on the issue. He said Azerbaijani officials informed him that the journalist was detained at the Green Border, where a passport is not needed. We should not hurry to make statements. The MIA has launched an investigation, and they have communication with the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs. Perhaps, they will make an official statement of what happened and where the person was detained,” he added.

By Thea Morrison

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31 May 2017 14:16