„Solidarity to Afgan Mukhtarli! Freedom to Afgan Mukhtarli!“ representatives of Human Rights House Tbilisi and its member organizations, other human rights defenders, journalists and civil activists were holding banners with these and other slogans during the protest action in front of the Chancellery of the Government of Georgia. Part of them had polyethylene bags over the heads to protest the abduction of the Azerbaijani journalist and to express their solidarity to him.

Azerbaijani journalist, Afgan Mukhtarli, disappeared in the center of Tbilisi on May 29. Later on he turned up detained in Baku. The Azerbaijani authority charged him for the illegal crossing of the border, smuggling and violently resisting a law enforcement official. 

Afgan is one of those journalists, who were persecuted in Azerbaijan because of their critical articles and civil activism. For that reason, Afgan and his wife Leyla Mustafaeva (freelancer journalist) arrived in Georgia in 2015. Afgan Mukhtarl and Leyla Mustafaeva continued their journalistic activities in Georgia.  

Their life in Georgia changed since August 2016, after the residence permits of Afgan and his wife expired and they re-applied to the respective state agencies for the extension of the permit. Afgan and Leyla received official refusal – the notification from the Georgian state agencies stated that their stay and activities in Georgia created threats to the security and/or public order in Georgia.

Human Rights House Tbilisi and its member organization, Article 42 of the Constitution, work on the case of Afgan Mukhtarli. The lawyer, Archil Chopikashvili said: “The investigation has collected testimonies of hundreds of witnesses, who learned about the incident only from TV. As for the video-cameras from the Lagodekhi custom’s [1] checkpoint, according to police, they were out of order exactly on the day of the abduction, on May 29. At the same time, all video-surveillance cameras on the roads, which the alleged kidnappers travelled through, were also switched off. None of the suspects, whose video-recordings and photos were obtained by the investigation, were identified and no respective measures were taken to question them. All these circumstances cast many doubts.” The witness testimonies reveal that Afgan Mukhtarli was surveilled before his alleged abduction. His wife also confirms this fact. According to Leyla Mustafaeva, she is still under surveillance.

The investigation in Georgia was launched by the Old Tbilisi police unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, under the Article 143 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, that refers to the illegal restriction of freedom. According to the lawyer of the HRHT member organization: “We addressed the Chief Prosecutor of Georgia on June 5 with the request to put the Chief Prosecutor’s Office in charge of the investigation instead of the district police unit. Considering the fact that, according to Afgan Mukhtarli, he was abducted by the people dressed in police uniforms, who took him across the state border without any obstacles, there is well-grounded doubt that law-enforcement officers might have had a hand in this crime.” The above mentioned request of HRHT member organization lawyer to Chief Prosecutor’s office was satisfied on July 20.  “Furthermore, on June 2, we applied to the European Court of Human Rights with the request of interim measure since there was a threat to the life of Afgan Mukhtarli during his detention in Azerbaijan. The ECtHR did not satisfy our appeal on interim measure but noted that in case of newly discovered threats we could re-apply to the Court. Also, the Court ordered the Government of Azerbaijan to ensure safety of Afgan Mukhtarl and granted priority status to the case. On July 19 we applied to the European Court with full application” – said Archil Chopikashvili, HRHT member organization, Article 42, lawyer.

As of the reaction to the case from Georgian state officials, soon after the incident became known, the Ministry of Internal Affairs disseminated the statement that they had started the investigation and had communication with the Azerbaijani colleagues, who claim that this person had illegally crossed the state border via uncontrolled territory, in the so-called “green zones”. After the international community had reacted to the fact, the case became more resonant and the Government started speaking about more effective investigation.

As for the President of Georgia, he made more critical statement: “Disappearance of the person from our territory is a serious challenge for the statehood. The state shall protect its reputation.” Later, the president met Afgan Muktarli’s wife, Leyla Mustafayeva together with HRHT member organization lawyer, during the meeting president stated that he will closely monitor Afgan’s case and will be open to receive any information about the case.

Furthermore, according to the statement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, on July 20 the head of the Border Police and Head of the Counter-Intelligence Department have resigned from their positions following the start of the investigation in the alleged abduction of Afgan Mukhtarli.

International society adequately reacted to the abduction of the Azerbaijani journalist. EU Parliament voted for the resolution drafted specifically on the case of Afgan Mukhtarl. According to resolution, the Georgian authorities should “make every effort to clarify all suspicion as to the possible involvement of state security institutions in the abduction of Afgan Mukhtarli”. Furthermore, the members of the European Parliament call on the Azerbaijani authority to commence the same investigation into the journalist’s abduction case on their side too. The EU Parliament called on the Georgian side to ensure safety of Mukhtarl’s family members and Azerbaijan to unconditionally release Mukhtarl from prison.

HRHT supports further HRDs, journalists and activists from Azerbaijan living in Georgia. In its statement HRHT and member organizations call upon Georgian authorities to protect rights of Azerbaijani citizens residing in Georgia.

Problematic is also the case of Dashgin Aghalarli, political activist from Azerbaijan, living in Georgia, recently he was at risk of extradition to Azerbaijan where it is alleged he will face serious risk of inhuman treatment. HRHT member organization, “Human Rights Center”, supports the case of the above mentioned Azerbaijani political activist. In accordance to the decision of the Appeal Court of Georgia, Dashgin and his son were refused to grant refugee status. Currently, with the legal advocacy of Human Rights Center, the Migration Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia issued temporary identification cards to Dashgin and his son based on what they will not be expelled from Georgia.

HRHT continues implementation of the projects in support of the Azerbaijani human rights defenders and journalists, and their family members sheltering Georgia. Since 2014 to present HRHT has assisted more than 100 beneficiaries from Azerbaijan.

You can see the fact sheets about Afgan Mukhtarli and Dashgin Aghalarli in the document section on the right side of the page. 

[1] The customs checkpoint situated at Georgia border to Azerbaijan.