Date of arrest – 29 May 2017
Charges (articles of the Criminal Code) –
206.1 – Smuggling
(moving large amount through customs border of the Azerbaijan Republic of goods or other subjects, except for ones which provided in article 206.2 of the present Code, committed except or with concealment from the customs control or with use of fouls documents or means of customs identification or connected with undeclared or doubtful declaring);
315.2 – Violence towards an official (Application of the violence dangerous to life or health concerning the representative of authority in connection with performance of official duties by him);
318.1 – Illegally crossing border (Crossing of protected frontier of the Azerbaijan Republic without established documents or outside of check point of frontier).
Penal facility – Sheki Pre-trial Detention Facility
Case summary – An independent journalist who investigated the businesses of high-level Azerbaijani officials (including the President and his family), Mukhtarli moved to Tbilisi in 2014 to protect himself from persecution. Along with his journalistic activities, he also supported political prisoners and acted as an organizer and a participant of protest rallies in front of the Azerbaijani embassy in Tbilisi.
On 4 May, an article titled “Secret anti-Azerbaijani nests” was published on a new outlet with very close connections to Azerbaijani government. Without providing any evidence, the article accused journalists, human rights defenders, and activists living in exile in Georgia and criticising the Azerbaijani government, including Afgan Mukhtarli in committing crimes against state and receiving funding from abroad for illegal purposes. Family members of the journalist alerted media and officially filed a missing person report with the Georgian police in the evening of 29 May when they were not able to contact him. A day after, it was reported that Afgan Mukhtarli was detained and taken to Azerbaijan. In a joint statement released on 31 May, the State Border Service and the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan claimed that Mukhtarli was detained while attempting to cross the border illegally and resisted border officers during the detention. Officers allegedly found 10,000 EUR on him which was confiscated. The details noted in the joint statement raise a few questions. First, why would a journalist who left the country due to persecutions and was recently smeared in a government-controlled media, attempt to return to Azerbaijan, especially with 10,000 EUR on him. In addition, Mukhtarli’s passport was at home which again casts doubt on the official version of the event.
In a meeting with his lawyer, Mukhtarli said that he was abducted by local (Georgian) police in the evening of 29 May, forced into an Opel brand car, his hands were tied behind, a sack was thrown over his head and he was beaten in the car. After travelling for around two hours, the car was switched to another one which took Mukhtarli to unknown destination. They switched cars again and this time passengers of the car were speaking in Azerbaijani. Persons in all three cars kept reporting to someone during the process. When Mukhtarli was taken out of the car and the sack was taken off his head, he found himself in the regiment of the State Border Service in Azerbaijan.
He was sentenced to three months of pre-trial detention by the Sabail district Court on 31 May. Signs of fresh wounds and bruising on the journalist’s forehead, nose and eyebrow areas could be seen when he was brought to the court. Despite these obvious marks, he was not immediately examined by the court medical expertise, while his lawyer’s request demanding video footage from surveillance cameras of the regiment was ignored.
The Ministry of Interior Affairs of Georgia launched a criminal case on illegal restriction of liberty in connection with the event. However, Mukhtarli’s wife expressed her dissatisfaction with the investigation and believes that failure to function of all surveillance cameras on the streets of Tbilisi where her husband passed in the evening of 29 May could not be a coincidence. The criminal case has been in execution of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia since July.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution about the case of Mukhtarli on 15 June which called for his immediate release. Amnesty International immediately recognised him as a “prisoner of conscience”, while the European Court of Human Rights decided to review Mukhtarli’s complaint in a priority order.
Sentence – On 12 January 2018 Mukhtarli was sentenced to six years loss of liberty by decision of the Balaken District Court’s judge Humbat Salimov.