Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the six-year jail sentence than an Azerbaijani court passed today on Afgan Mukhtarli, a journalist who was brought back by force from self-imposed exile in neighbouring Georgia. As well as unjustly punishing its victim, this iniquitous sentence is meant to intimidate his fellow journalists.
The lack of evidence did not stop the court in the northern city of Balakan from convicting Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani investigative reporter and activist, of smuggling, crossing the border illegally and refusing to comply with instructions from the police – trumped up charges designed to disguise the fact that he was abducted from his refuge in Georgia and brought back against his will.
“The sentence imposed on Afgan Mukhtarli sends a terrifying signal to his colleagues in exile,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Only a very firm response from the international community would be able to reassure them – that punitive actions abroad by President Ilham Aliyev’s regime will not be tolerated.”
Mukhtarli was kidnapped on 29 May 2017 in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, when he had lived in self-imposed exile for three years. All evidence to the contrary, the Azerbaijani authorities claim that he was arrested at the border with 10,000 euros in his pockets. A diabetic, he has lost a lot of weight in prison and is suffering from high blood pressure.
Mukhtarli worked for IWPR and the Meydan TV independent news website, often writing about high-level government corruption in Azerbaijan. Shortly before his abduction, he said he was being closely watched and that he was concerned for his safety and the safety other Azerbaijani dissidents in Georgia.
Azerbaijan is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The Aliyev regime has done everything possible to crush media pluralism in recent years, throttling all of the most outspoken media outlets financially or closing them by force. At least 13 journalists and two bloggers are currently detained in connection with their reporting.