OSCE, US Demand Release of Azerbaijani Journalist Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United States (US) Department of State have called for the release of Azeri journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, allegedly abducted in Tbilisi in May 2017, who was sentenced to six years in prison by the Balakan District Court in Azerbaijan on January 12.

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, condemned the sentencing of the journalist, saying “the sentence, based on spurious charges against the investigative journalist, is a clear attack on free media.”

Désir, who previously called on the authorities to drop all charges against Mukhtarli and respect his right to freedom of expression, added that silencing independent journalists can never be accepted.

“I hope this verdict will be overturned on appeal,” the OSCE Representative said, going on to note that the investigation by Georgian authorities is still underway.

The US Department of State also released a statement, saying the smuggling of and related charges against Mukhtarli are widely considered to be politically motivated.

“We urge the Government of Azerbaijan to release Mr. Mukhtarli and all those incarcerated for exercising their fundamental freedoms,” the US statement reads.

The statement also notes that the US continues to closely follow the Georgian investigation into the reported abduction, and reiterates the call that it be “full, transparent, and timely.”

Mukhtarli is a political migrant who left Azerbaijan around four years ago. In Tbilisi, he held protests in front of the Azerbaijan Embassy and wrote about the persecution of Azerbaijani activists in Georgia. He disappeared on May 29, and the following day 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 EUR 10,000 was planted on him. The Azerbaijani authorities accused him of "smuggling", "illegal crossing of the border" and "resisting an official representative."

The journalist’s wife and lawyer, as well as many international organizations, claim that Mukhtarli’s case is politically motivated.

Mukhtarli’s wife Leila Mustafayeva says her husband was transferred by Georgian law enforcers to the Azerbaijani side.

Member of Georgian Dream (GD) ruling party, Gia Volsky, says there should be no doubts for the Government of Georgia, adding Mukhtarli lived in the country for years and no one had any problem as a result of him being here.

“Before his detention, we had never heard of him or his activities,” Volsky said, going on to express hope that the investigation in Georgia will soon answer all the questions surrounding the case.

Thea Morrison

15 January 2018 18:57