Georgia today (1 June) denied it was involved in the alleged abduction and handover of a pro-opposition Azerbaijani journalist to his country’s authoritarian government.
Journalist Afghan Mukhtarli was jailed Wednesday (31 May) for a preliminary three months by an Azerbaijani court on charges of illegally crossing the border and smuggling money after he resurfaced in his homeland following a purported kidnapping.
— RSF (@RSF_inter) June 1, 2017
Mukhtarli, 43, had lived in self-imposed exile in neighbouring Georgia since 2015 after investigating Azerbaijan’s strongman leader Ilham Aliyev for corruption.
He claims that he was abducted on Tuesday (30 May) in the Georgian capital by plain-clothed men who spoke Georgian, beaten and later handed to Azerbaijani security forces.
Amnesty International said it appeared authorities in pro-Western Georgia “were complicit in the harrowing cross-border abduction”.
— Maxim Edwards (@MaximEdwards) May 30, 2017
But Minister of Internal Affairs Giorgi Mgebrishvili said that “Georgia’s law enforcement agencies have nothing to do with this version of the case, nor can they have any connection with it.”
“Let’s not draw hasty conclusions, the investigation will reveal the truth,” he said.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili has called Mukhtarli’s “disappearance from the Georgian territory” a “serious challenge to the Georgian state and its sovereignty”.
Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks said, “Azerbaijan’s authorities must release Mr Mukhtarli without delay and ensure that he fully enjoys his human rights, including the protection from torture and ill-treatment.”
— Nils Muiznieks (@CommissionerHR) May 31, 2017
Oil-rich Azerbaijan’s government has faced strong international criticism over claims it routinely harasses and jails the president’s opponents, something it denies.
Aliyev, 55, took over in 2003 after the death of his father Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and Communist-era leader who had ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993.
Georgia has long been an asylum destination for Azerbaijani dissidents fleeing persecution at home. It has faced mounting pressure from Baku over sheltering Aliyev’s critics.