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Azerbaijan Puts Another Journalist on Trial

Police say Afgan Mukhtarli illegally crossed the Georgian border, while he claims to have been abducted from Tbilisi.

4 December 2017

The trial of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli (pictured) got under way in confrontational mode, the investigative journalism network OCCRP writes.

 

Mukhtarli’s case has drawn attention both as the latest in a long line of trials of independent journalists and critics of the Azerbaijani government, and because of questions surrounding his disappearance from his adopted home of Tbilisi in late May and appearance the next day under police custody in Azerbaijan.

 

Mukhtarli is accused of illegal border crossing and smuggling 10,000 euros across the Azerbaijani-Georgian border, JAM News reports.

 

On the opening day of his trial in the northwestern town of Balaken on 30 November, Mukhtarli’s lawyer Nemat Kerimli petitioned for the charges to be dropped for lack of evidence.

 

Mukhtarli was “vocal and hostile,” OCCRP writes, accusing the judge of showing disrespect and not being acquainted with the facts of the case.

 

The journalist and his wife fled to Georgia in 2015 as the Azerbaijani authorities stepped up pressure on critical journalists. While still in Azerbaijan he covered issues such as the legal problems facing independent publishers, and continued to investigate allegations of corruption in the family of Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliev from Tbilisi.

 

His disappearance from Georgia came in the same month that a pro-government journalist in Azerbaijan, Eynulla Fatullayev, accused Azeri dissidents in Georgia of planning to overthrow Aliev in an editorial naming Mukhtarli and a dozen others, Stratfor wrote last month.

 

The Georgian interior minister dismissed the heads of the country’s border police and counter-intelligence service in connection with Mukhtarli’s disappearance.

 

At least four other Azeris named in the piece have since left Georgia, and Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili said the disappearance of a person from Georgian territory “by any means” was “a serious challenge to our sovereignty and statehood.”

 

Also in May, Georgia-based Azeri journalist Gulnur Kazimova and her family left for Germany. Kazimova claimed last year that Azerbaijani agents were surveilling her in Georgia.

 

Mukhtarli’s wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, and their young daughter are now also in Germany, according to Stratfor.

 

The next hearing in Mukhtarli’s trial is scheduled for 14 December, OCCRP reports.

 

 

  • Fatullayev’s career trajectory makes a fascinating sidebar to the cases against Mukhtarli and many other critical Azeri journalists. His own reporting on delicate subjects earned him an eight-year jail term and international support for his cause. He was released in 2011 after four years.

 

  • After release he founded the Haqqin.az news site “and his journalism is now aimed not at the government, but its foes,” EurasiaNet.org wrote in March. The site has become a go-to source for politicians, journalists, and diplomats in Baku, EurasiaNet said.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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