An Azerbaijani investigative journalist who vanished yesterday evening from the Georgian capital Tbilisi is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment after resurfacing today in custody across the border in Baku, Azerbaijan, after what he described to his lawyer as a harrowing cross-border abduction, Amnesty International said.
Afgan Mukhtarli, whose wife reported him in the evening of 29 May, is now known to be in the custody of the Investigative Unit of the State Border Service of Azerbaijan, according to local activists and his lawyer. The couple had gone into exile in Georgia in 2015 amid fears for their safety over his investigations into Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s alleged links to corruption. Mukhtarli’s lawyer managed to speak to him briefly today.
According to the lawyer, Mukhtarli was abducted in Tbilisi by plain-clothed men who spoke Georgian. The men tied the journalist up, drove him to the outskirts of Tbilisi and beat him repeatedly. They then changed cars twice before taking him across the border to Azerbaijan. Mukhtarli said that as they crossed the border 10,000 Euros were planted in his pockets so the Azerbaijani police could subsequently charge him with trespassing and smuggling. Mukhtarli also told his lawyer that he was further ill-treated when he was in Azerbaijan.
Levan Asatiani, Amnesty International’s South Caucasus Campaigner who is currently in Tbilisi, said:
“This is a deeply sinister development in a country known for its long crackdown on journalists and human rights defenders.
“Afgan Mukhtarli must be immediately and unconditionally released and protected from torture and other ill-treatment.
“He is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for his work as a journalist.
“It seems that the Georgian authorities were also complicit in Afgan Mukhtarli’s abduction and forced return to Azerbaijan. His family told Amnesty International that he has often been followed by Azerbaijani-speaking men on the streets of Tbilisi, indicating that he has been under surveillance for some time. Georgia must promptly and impartially investigate what happened and hold accountable all those involved in this gruesome operation.”