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Reporters Without Borders calls for release of Azeri journalist

By Tea Mariamidze
Friday, September 1
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), journalist rights watchdog group, has released a statement and called for the immediate release of Afgan Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani journalist who completed his third month in detention in Baku since he was allegedly abducted in Georgia, where he lived in exile.

The watchdog group underlined that the health condition of the journalist is very poor.

“According to officials at the prison where Mukhtarli is detained, he is in the best of health despite being diabetic. But his lawyers and wife say he has lost 21 kilos since his abduction, has high blood pressure and was denied access to medicine for a long time. He has been refused family visits several times and, despite everything, a court in Baku has just extended his provisional detention until 30 October,” the organization reports.

The head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, Johann Bihr, said that Afgan Mukhtarli’s detention is a disgrace to both Azerbaijan and Georgia.

“We again appeal to the Azerbaijani authorities to free this journalist at once and to drop the trumped-up charges brought against him. And the Georgian authorities must shed all possible light on how he came to be abducted,” he added.

RSF stresses that in Georgia, an investigation into Mukhtarli’s “illegal detention” has drawn a blank although several members of the Georgian security services were fired, adding that surveillance camera recordings near the scene of the abduction were mysteriously tampered with.

Mukhtarli had been living in exile in Georgia since 2015. In Tbilisi, he held protests in front of Azerbaijan’s embassy and recently wrote about the persecution of Azerbaijani activists in Georgia. He disappeared on May 29, and the following day was found in a Baku police department.

The journalist told his lawyer in Georgia that he was detained and forced into a car near his house in Tbilisi by Georgian Special Service officers. He said that he was beaten and EUR 10,000 was planted on him.

He is charged with possession of contraband, crossing the border illegally and refusing to comply with instructions from the police. He denies all the charges.

The journalist’s wife and lawyer claim that Mukhtarli’s case is politically motivated and say that he was transferred by Georgian law enforcers to the Azerbaijani side.

The watchdog says that the Azerbaijani authorities have done everything possible to crush media pluralism in recent years. The most outspoken media outlets have all been throttled financially or forcibly closed. Access to their websites is blocked.

“Azerbaijan is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. Its president, Ilham Aliyev, is on RSF’s list of press freedom predators,” the RSF stressed.