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Georgia didn’t hand over Azeri journalist

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, June 5
Georgia’s Interior Minister strongly denied Georgian law enforcers' involvement in the detention of Azeri journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who disappeared from Tbilisi on May 29 and appeared in custody in Baku the next day.

Minister Giorgi Mgebrishvili stressed that those who accuse the Georgian authorities of handing the investigative journalist over to Baku are trying to “discredit the state bodies responsible for the country’s security.”

The Minister stated that according to the Azerbaijani media, Mukhtarli - who had fled his homeland due to a conflict with the Azerbaijani government - used to illegally cross the Georgia-Azerbaijani state border and contraband foreign currencies.

“For now we can neither confirm nor deny the information,” Mgebrishvili said, adding he also didn’t have information whether the Azerbaijani side had prior information over an alleged illegal crossing of border in order to detain the man.

Mgebrishvili highlighted that some Georgian media outlets, individuals and organizations, “groundlessly, without any evidence” (although their claims were in fact based on statements from Mukhtarli’s lawyer and wife), reported that Georgian special units had participated in the journalist’s detention.

“It’s not right, and it’s unacceptable to make conclusions over such issues without any real proof. It’s unacceptable to try to discredit the state bodies that are responsible for the state security,” Mgebrishvili said.

He emphasized Georgia is a democratic country with European values, striving towards Euro-Atlantic Integration and the state security bodies “had no hand” in the incident.

Mgebrishvili stressed that Azerbaijan “has never appealed to Georgia” to detain any of its citizens for their political attitudes, and the journalist has also never asked for protection from Georgia’s law enforcement agencies.

Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili also commented on the issue, appealing to all to “refrain from discrediting the state institutions and making premature statements until the investigation is over”.

Kvirikashvili stated that decreased trust in state security bodies will make it hard to protect Georgia’s safety in the future.

The journalist is charged with illegally crossing the border and dealing contraband in Azerbaijan.

Georgia’s Interior Ministry has launched an investigation into the “alleged unlawful imprisonment” of the Azerbaijani journalist.

Ten of Georgia’s leading NGOs stressed that considering the political character of the incident and Mukhtarli’s allegation about the possible participation of the Georgian state authorities in his detention, “we have a well-grounded suspicion that the Azerbaijani journalist could not have been arrested in the territory of Georgia and transported to Azerbaijan without at least a willing ignorance or ineffective work of Georgian state institutions, if not with their active support and direct participation”.

They added it is particularly suspicious that an Azerbaijani citizen crossed the border without his ID documents.

“Despite well-grounded concerns that Mukhtarli may become a subject of torture, inhumane treatment or punishment, and a victim of political persecution in Azerbaijan, the state of Georgia failed to guarantee the safety and inviolability of persons who were under its control and even participated in illegal activities. It causes deep concern and violates the obligations of Georgia under international conventions and acts,” they added.

NGOs addressed the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia to ensure an effective, timely, and impartial investigation into the case.

They also appealed to the Parliament of Georgia to ensure effective parliamentary control over Mukhtarli’s case.

The Parliamentary opposition openly accused the Government of handing over the man to Azerbaijan.