Azerbaijan’s repression spreads to Georgia

Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli suddenly went missing in Tbilisi, Georgia, on the night of 29 May, leaving his relatives and colleagues without news until the next day, when he was able to contact his lawyer from the State Border Service İnvestigation Unit in Azerbaijan.

Update 19 June

Human Rights House Tbilisi, supported by a lawyer from member organisation Article 42, has appealed Afgan Mukhtarli’s case to the European Court of Human Rights. In its response, the Court has said that it will seek further information from Azerbaijan on his alleged abduction and current situation by 16 June. It will then examine whether to order his release from pre-trial detention as an interim measure.

Published 31 May

Afgan Mukhtarl faced a remand hearing on restraining measures at the Sabail Court of Baku on 31 May 2017.

He is among many human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists who had to flee Azerbaijan, fearing retaliation due to their work. For him specifically this concerns his cooperation with investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Since the crackdown of the summer 2014 in Azerbaijan, which led to many leading civil society figures being arrested or having to flee Azerbaijan, many have decided to find safe haven in Georgia, where Afgan Mukhtarli lives with a valid residence permit.

His lawyer Elchin Sadigov met with him and was informed in detail about the events, which he reports as follows: Afgan Mukhtarli was forcefully pushed into a car in Tbilisi; a bag was placed over his head. He was handcuffed from behind; his eyes were covered and he was brought to the border with Azerbaijan, after the car in which he was driven was changed twice. According to Afgan Mukhtarli, those who arrested him were speaking Georgian among themselves.

“This abduction-like scenario is simply unacceptable. The Georgian government must investigate, and clarify whether any role was played by Georgian law enforcement agencies,” commented Maria Dahle, Director of the Human Rights House Foundation.

“Afgan Mukhtarli must be immediately and unconditionally released in Azerbaijan, and allowed to return safely to Georgia,” she added.

This case is emblematic of the increased pressure put on Azerbaijani human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers who have found safe haven in Georgia. This pressure against Azerbaijani human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers is not limited to those living in the country, but also concerns those coming to Georgia from abroad to work on issues concerning Azerbaijan, as occurred recently with Meydan TV journalists.

The Human Rights House Tbilisi and its member NGOs have actively supported Azerbaijani human rights defenders at risk. In their reaction to this case, along with other well-known Georgian NGOs, they call upon the Georgian government to ensure the protection of human rights defenders, journalists, and lawyers, and to abide by international law in this regard and further respect the rights of refugees. They further call upon the Georgian Prosecutor General to conduct an effective, timely and independent investigation into what appears to be an illegal abduction.

“Georgia must meet its commitments on the protection of human rights defenders, and prevent such enforced disappearances as described by Afgan Mukhtarli,” commented Maria Dahle.

Georgia has co-sponsored all recent United Nations resolutions on human rights defenders. Most recently, Georgia was amongst the States expressing grave concern at the Human Rights Council – of which Georgia is a member – “that the practice of enforced disappearance is often used to repress and intimidate human rights defenders.”

“There is no doubt in our mind that Azerbaijan continues to target human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers solely due to their human rights related work or because they are critical of the government’s policies,” said Maria Dahle. “We are extremely concerned that Georgia would contribute to that repression. However, the prime responsibility remains with the Azerbaijani government, which must now face international reaction to its continued repression targeting the very people working for the promotion of human rights.”

In recent weeks, media outlets close to the Azerbaijani government have published information about Azerbaijani human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers living in Georgia, thereby threatening their safety and security in the country.

The Human Rights House Tbilisi and its member NGOs hosted a press conference yesterday and participated in civil society protests in Tbilisi today.

Video of protests on 31 May, recorded by Human Rights House Tbilisi

Documents:

HRHT statement on the abduction and arrest of Azerbaijani journalist in Georgia

Human Rights House Tbilisi and its member organisations call upon Georgian authorities to take all necessary steps to promptly and efficiently investigate the case of alleged abduction and forcible return to Azerbaijan of Azerbaijani journalist, Afgan Mukhtarli

Human Rights House Tbilisi

Human Rights House Tbilisi is a collaborative project, which unites six Georgian human rights organisations. Human Rights House Tbilisi was founded in September 2009, registered in July 2010, and became a member of the international Human Rights House Network the same year.

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