Protesters chanted “Shame on Georgia,” “Where is the rule of law?” as they rallied in front of the Georgian government to support Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who was abducted in Tbilisi on May 29 and now is in detention in the Azerbaijan capital Baku.
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.
“He was taken to Azerbaijan, but without passport,” the journalists’ wife Leila Mustafayeva told Public Radio of Armenia. “I don’t know how the Georgian authorities and the state border services allowed it. Shame on the Georgian government, because they thus sacrifice the freedom of speech,” she said.
Leila Mustafayeva believes the incident is “related to his articles and critical Facebook posts about President Aliyev, his family business in Georgia – restaurants, hotels, banks, etc.
Official Tbilisi is yet to respond to the incident. The only comment comes from Zviad Koridze, Head of the President’s Pardon Commission. He says “in any event, the Georgian authorities are responsible.”
“I don’t know whether they participated in it or just closed the eyes, but they are responsible, in any event,” Koridze told Public Radio of Armenia.
He believes citizens being persecuted in Azerbaijan and Turkey should feel safe in Georgia, as the protection of human rights has been the country’s biggest achievement over the past 26 years and it “should be respected.”
“The Georgian government should tell Azerbaijan and Turkey that we are strategic partners, when it comes to energy and transport projects, transnational programs, but we are not partners in violating human rights,” he added.
Giorgi Gogia, Human Rights Watch director of South Caucasus, in described Mukhtarli’s disappearance as another step in the Azerbaijani government’s “relentless crackdown on critics.”
“The Georgian authorities should investigate what happened yesterday and reveal which state agencies supported or failed to prevent the abduction,” he said.
Tens of politicians, journalists and human rights defenders have fled Azerbaijan and found refuge in Georgia. Vidadi Isgenderli is the only Azerbaijani in exile to receive a ‘political refugee’ status.
“Georgia has found itself in a difficult situation. On one hand Aliyev blackmails the Georgian authorities with gas, oil and economic blockade, on the other hand the Western powers demand democracy,” Isgenderli said.
Another human rights defender Dashgin Agalarli risks being sent to Azerbaijan, unless he leaves Georgia in the coming days.” He’ll face a prison term if extradited to Baku.
Photos by Gita Elibekyan/Public Radio of Armenia