The case of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who went missing on May 29 from Tbilisi and appeared in a detention facility in Baku a day later, drew critical responses in international human rights organizations.
The Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Paris-based rights watchdog group, released a statement on June 1, requesting explanation from Georgian authorities on “how Afgan Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani journalist living in exile in Georgia, was abducted and taken back to neighboring Azerbaijan.”
“The Georgian authorities must immediately explain what happened to Afgan Mukhtarli and provide security guarantees for the other Azerbaijani exiles in Georgia,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“Whether Mukhtarli was kidnapped by foreign operatives or whether the Georgian security forces were accomplices to the Azerbaijani regime’s persecution of its critics, this is a very grave incident that cannot remain without consequences.”
“We demand the immediate release of Afgan Mukhtarli, who is now exposed to the possibility of torture and mistreatment,” Bihr added.
The Human Right Watch (HRW), New York-based human rights organization, released a statement on May 31, stressing that, in Azerbaijan, Mukhtarli “faces bogus, politically motivated charges of illegal border crossing and smuggling” and might be at “imminent threat of ill-treatment in custody.”
“Georgian authorities should promptly investigate the kidnapping of the journalist, Afgan Mukhtarli, and Azerbaijani authorities should immediately release and drop all charges against him,” the statement said.
Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch, said that Azerbaijan has an “appalling record of harassing and prosecuting government critics,” and added that the organization is “seriously concerned for Mukhtarli’s safety.”
“This kidnapping is clumsy and cowardly,” HRW South Caucasus director noted. “No one for a minute will believe that Mukhtarli voluntarily tried to enter Azerbaijan, from where he fled to escape persecution. If Azerbaijani authorities have evidence of wrongdoing they could have pursued him through extradition. Instead, he was abducted by cartoonish gangsters,” he added.
The Human Rights Watch called on Georgian authorities to “immediately investigate Mukhtarli’s kidnapping, including whether Georgian law enforcement agents were complicit in illegally transferring Mukhtarli across the border or whether they actively participated in his kidnapping.”
Gogia emphasized that the Georgian government shares responsibility for Mukhtarli’s fate, and it should “come clean about its role in his illegal detention and return.”
The Amnesty International, London-based international human right organization, issued a statement as well, saying it “is a deeply sinister development in a country known for its long crackdown on journalists and human rights defenders.”