AZERBAIJAN: Kidnapped journalist must be released immediately
PEN condemns the cross-border abduction and detention of Azeri investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who vanished from Georgia’s capital Tbilisi on May 29, 2017, and reappeared the following day in police custody in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku. Afgan Mukhtarli told his lawyer that he had been abducted on his way home by unidentified men who spoke Georgian. They pushed him into a car, blindfolded him, and beat him before changing vehicles. He said that his captors in the second car spoke Azeri and took him across the border to Azerbaijan. He added that 10,000 euros were planted on him. On May 31, the Baku Sabail District Court sentenced him to three months pre-trial detention on charges of smuggling, resisting arrest, and illegally crossing the border. PEN fears that Afgan Mukhtarli is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment as well as an unfair trial. The organization believes that the charges against him are politically motivated and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
Please send appeals to the Azeri authorities:
- Protesting Afgan Mukhtarli’s detention and calling for his immediate and unconditional release;
- Calling on them to ensure that Afgan Mukhtarli is protected from torture and other ill-treatment;
- Urging them to end their campaign of intimidation directed at opposition or critical voices and to comply with their obligations under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which Azerbaijan is a state party) to protect the right to freedom of expression.
President Ilham Aliyev
Office of the President of Azerbaijan
Istiglaliyyat Street 19
AZ 1066 Baku
Email: [email protected]
Prosecutor General Zakir Qaralov
Office of the Prosecutor General
7 Rafibeyli Street
AZ 1001 Baku
Email: [email protected]
Please copy your letters to the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in your country. Addresses may be found here.
Please send appeals to the Georgian authorities:
- Urging them to ensure that a prompt, independent, and impartial investigation is carried out into Afgan Mukhtarli’s abduction and that those responsible are held to account;
- Reminding them that Georgia is a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights and that any involvement in Afgan Mukhtarli’s abduction would be a violation of the Convention.
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili
7 Ingorokva St
Online form: gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&
Minister of Internal Affairs Giorgi Mghebrishvili
10, G. Gulua St
Online form: http://bit.ly/2reW03L
Please copy your letters to the Embassy of Georgia in your country. Addresses may be found here.
***Please send appeals immediately. Please send us copies of any appeals you send and of any responses you receive***
Afgan Mukhtarli is a prominent Azeri investigative journalist who worked for many years for opposition outlets, including Meydan TV and the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, during which time he experienced several instances of arrest and harassment. He and his wife Leyla Mustafayeva, also a prominent writer and journalist, moved to Georgia in 2015 as the Azeri authorities increased their crackdown on opposition voices and critical journalists. The couple’s residency permits expired in November 2016 after the Georgian authorities refused to extend them. They continued to reside legally in Georgia as Azeri passport holders can remain in the country for up to one year.
The Georgian authorities remained initially silent on Afgan Mukhtarli’s kidnapping. On May 31, Georgia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili eventually told journalists that “the disappearance of a person is a serious challenge for our statehood and sovereignty.” The Ministry of Internal Affairs confirmed that it had opened an investigation after Leyla Mustafayeva reported her husband missing. On June 1 Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who was pressed to comment on the case, rejected the idea that state agents could have been involved.
Despite the much-lauded release of political prisoners in March 2016, the persecution of critical voices in Azerbaijan has accelerated in recent months. The challenges they face are severe and frequent and include death threats, surveillance, judicial harassment, and violence. Currently, dozens of journalists and activists are behind bars for exercising their right to free expression.
In its preliminary findings of a country visit carried out in May 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reported that “human rights defenders, journalists, political and religious leaders continue to be detained under criminal or administrative charges as a way to impair the exercise of their basic human rights and fundamental freedoms and to silence them. These practices constitute an abuse of authority and violate of the rule of law that Azerbaijan has agreed to comply with.”
The UN Human Rights Council also expressed concerns at “consistent reports of intimidation and harassment, including arbitrary arrest and detention, ill-treatment and conviction of human rights defenders, youth activists, political opponents, independent journalists and bloggers on allegedly politically motivated trumped-up administrative or criminal charges of hooliganism, drug possession, economic crimes, tax evasion, abuse of office, incitement to violence or hatred.” It called on the Azeri authorities to “take immediate steps to end any repression against [these] categories of persons” and to “take all measures necessary to guarantee the full enjoyment of freedom of expression by everyone in practice.”
For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: [email protected]
 UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Statement upon the conclusion of its visit to Azerbaijan (16-25 May 2016), 26 May 2016, available at: www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/
 United Nations Human Rights Committee, Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Azerbaijan, CCPR/C/AZE/CO/4 (2016), para. 36 (a).