Prisoner of Conscience: Afgan Mukhtarli
In May 2017 Afgan Mukhtarli, an Azeri investigative journalist living in self-imposed exile in Georgia, went out to see a friend in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Once the meeting was over he rang his wife Leyla Mustafayevato to let her know that he was on his way back home. However, he never returned. Instead, a day later he appeared in a detention center in Azeri capital Baku. He was later charged with illegal border crossing, smuggling, and resisting arrest. In January 2018 an Azerbaijani court found him guilty and sentenced him to six years in prison.
Mukhtarli said that he had been forcibly pushed into a car by four strangers who were speaking in Georgian, some of whom wearing police uniforms.
At the time of his disappearance, he was working on an investigation into the assets of the Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and his family in Georgia.
Mukhtarli and his wife fled to Georgia in 2015 following threats the journalists had received in relation to a story exposing corruption in Azeri defense ministry. As an investigative reporter, he has been working with many independent publications, including the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Radio Free Europe, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
Since 2017 a number of local and international human rights organizations and media watchdogs have been calling for his release and urging Georgia to investigate his alleged abduction. Georgian Prime Minister has denied any involvement of Georgian authorities. However, two years after the incident, the investigation of the case is still pending.
In the summer of 2017 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg started to examine the journalist’s case as a priority and sent questions both to the Azeri and Georgian governments.
The European Parliament also issued a strong resolution, condemning Mukhtarli’s detention in Baku, describing his case as a “serious violation of human rights and condemns this grave act of breach of law”. The European Members of Parliament stressed that the “prosecution of Afgan Mukhtarli follows bogus charges and reiterates that he is trailed for his work as an independent journalist”.
Mukhtarli is not the first Azeri journalist to be sent to jail investigating high-ranking graft in his home country, infamous for this. In 2015 investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, known for her investigations into corruption involving Aliyev and his family, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on what many human rights organizations saw as fake charges of tax evasion and embezzlement. One year later, amid mounting international pressure, Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court released her on probation.
In the meantime, Mukhtarli remains in jail, where his health has been deteriorating. In September 2019 he went on a hunger strike and refused to take his Diabetes 2 medication because of the alleged mistreatment of his lawyer by prison officials.
Following the detention of her husband and fearing for their safety, his wife and daughter left Georgia and received asylum in Germany.
Disclaimer: As of 10th December 2019, research shows that Afgan Mukhtarli is still in detention.