Azeri Journalist Says Georgian PM Is Linked to His Abduction

Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, allegedly abducted in Tbilisi in May 2017, and sentenced to six years in prison by the Balakan District Court in Azerbaijan in January 2018, has accused Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili of being involved in his abduction.

Mukhtarli was released from prison for 48 hours to visit the graves of his underage niece and nephew, who died just before the New Year.

In his brother’s house in an Azerbaijani village, the journalist spoke to Georgia’s local Rustavi 2 TV and remembered the details of his abduction. He said he was not far from his home when three Georgian men, dressed in the uniform of criminal police, kidnapped him and pushed into a car.

Mukhtarli says he was taken to Lagodekghi, Kakheti, then a bag was put over his head and he was put into another car.

“I told them not to stab me and just shoot me. I also asked them to tell my wife never to return to Azerbaijan…They told me nothing bad would happen to me,” the journalist said.

He told Rustavi 2 that after changing three cars, he realized he was in Azerbaijan, where money was planted on him and he was accused of “police resistance, smuggling and illegal crossing of the border.”

“My abduction was perfectly planned as no-one hindered my transfer to the Azerbaijani side. I am sure that the Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili is linked to this case, otherwise the people would not have been able to organize such a high-level kidnapping,” the journalist stressed, adding if not Kvirikashvili, then Georgia’s ex-PM and founder of the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, must have been involved in his kidnapping.

“The whole Interior Ministry of Georgia and Lagodekhi Police Department Chief were also involved,” he added, accusing both the Georgian and Azerbaijani sides of cooperation against him.

The journalist says the reason for his abduction and transfer is that he, like many other Azeri journalists, is in opposition to the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Alyiev.

“My family and other activists knew that we were being watched in Tbilisi. We addressed the police several days before my kidnapping, asking for proper action and help,” Mukhtarli told Netgazeti.

In his interview, the journalist addressed the Georgian people and thanked them for their support.

"I want to thank the Georgian people and my colleagues for their solidarity. I lived in Tbilisi for 2 years and gained many friends during this time,” he said.

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, 2017, and the following day was “found” in the Baku police department.

Georgian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), opposition parties, as well as international organizations like Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United States Department of State have called for the release of the Azeri journalist several times, claiming his detention is politically motivated.

Eka Beselia, Chairperson of the Parliament’s Legal Issues Committee, says the allegations of the Azerbaijani journalist against the Georgian government and Prime Minister are “slander.”

"This is a classic example of defamation. The investigation into this case is ongoing and almost all persons who had any information have been interrogated. Such accusations are false and slanderous," Beselia told reporters.

Sozar Subari, Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia, also commented on Mukhtarli’s accusations, saying his statements are “not serious.” According to him, the version of kidnapping from Tbilisi center is “absurd.”

"I understand that a person in jail has many troubles, but no one should tell lies, especially a journalist," said the Minister.

Afgan Mukhtarli has addressed the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg and filed a lawsuit against the Georgian and Azerbaijani governments.

Thea Morrison

12 February 2018 17:54