(BALAKAN, Azerbaijan) - Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afghan Mukhtarli, who disappeared from central Tbilisi in May last year, has been sentenced to six years in prison by the Balakan district court in Azerbaijan on January 12.
Azeri Journalist Disappeared from Tbilisi Sentenced to 6 Years
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, January 15
The court found him guilty of illegal crossing of border, smuggling in money and resisting the border guards. Mukhtarli claims he was abducted from Tbilisi for his investigations about top figures of Azerbaijan, their businesses in Georgia and connections with the Georgian government.
Mukhtarli’s wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, who is also an investigative journalist, has stated that his husband’s verdict was part of a “joint deal” between the Georgian and Azerbaijani leaderships.
“My husband was abducted from Tbilisi. The charges he was sentenced for are invented. Mukhtarli’s arrest is an international offence that was committed by the Georgian and Azeri leaderships. Governments of the both countries are responsible for the arrest,” Mustafayeva said.
Mustafayeva wrote that his husband was investigating Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s and his family businesses in Georgia and the business interests between the Aliyev family and the Georgian government members.
“His journalist activities were the reason of the arrest,” Mustafayeva said and vowed she and her colleagues would complete the investigations launched by his husband.
The prosecution was demanding eight years for Muktarli. Now the journalist can appeal the verdict to upper instances.
The US President Donald Trump’s administration and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have called for the release of the journalist.
“The sentence, based on spurious charges against the investigative journalist, is a clear attack on free media. Silencing independent journalists can never be accepted. I hope that this verdict will be overturned on appeal,” OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir stated.
The Azeri leadership has criticized OSCE for making such “groundless accusations.”
Georgian law enforcers are still investigating how Mukhtarlii appeared from Tbilisi in Baku on May 29, 2017.
Georgian opposition parties shared the view Mukhtarli was abducted and the abduction came after the agreement between the relevant bodies of Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The opposition is demanding timely investigation of the case.
The Georgian government dismisses accusations over any involvement in Mukhtarli’s case.
Mukhtarli, with his wife and a young daughter had lived in Georgia since 2015, as he saw threats from the Azerbaijani leadership.
The Georgian government refused to grant them the residency permit they had been asking for.
After Mukhtarli’s disappearance and the stir over the issue President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili offered Mustafayeva the Georgian citizenship, which she refused.
Now Mustafayeva lives in one of the European countries with her daughter.