AZERBAIJAN / Freed March 17, 2020
UPDATE: Afgan Mukhtarli, the Azeri investigative journalist and political activist well known for his investigative reports on the Azerbaijani government, was released from an Azerbaijani prison on March 17 after three years in detention. In 2017, Azerbaijani forces kidnapped Mukhtarli from his home in Georgia and brought him to Azerbaijan, where he was convicted of crossing the border illegally, and sentenced to six years incarceration after a sham trial. Mukhtarli’s sentence was widely seen as retribution for his journalism, which included articles implicating state officials, including the Aliyev family, which has dominated Azerbaijani politics since the 1990’s. Upon his release, he reunited with his wife and daughter in Berlin, Germany, who are living there in exile.
In a Global Voices interview a week after his release, Mukhtarli thanked the international community for its continued pressure on the Azerbaijani administration during his time in prison. To read that interview, click here. To read more about his abduction and trial, continue with the original #SetThemFree article below.
2019 #SetThemFree Alert: Afgan Mukhtarli is a well-known investigative journalist and political activist based in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he had been living in exile since 2014 to avoid persecution in Azerbaijan. He has contributed to various dissident media networks, such as Meydan TV, a Berlin-based Azerbaijani non-profit media organization that covers corruption, human rights, and other issues in Azerbaijan. He has also written for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani Service, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Eurasianet.org.
On May 29, 2017, Afgan was abducted while on his way home and forcibly taken across the border to a detention center in Baku, Azerbaijan. His lawyer reported that he was beaten and had received a bloody nose, bruises, and a broken rib during his kidnapping. He was subsequently charged with illegally crossing the border into Azerbaijan, assaulting a border guard, and carrying 10,000 euro of undeclared currency.
On January 12, 2018, Afgan was sentenced to six years in prison. Although he appealed, the Azerbaijani Supreme Court upheld the sentence on September 18, 2018. He has been detained ever since.
Prior to his abduction, Afgan had been targeted by the Azerbaijani government. On May 18, 2017, just eleven days before his abduction, he described being surveilled, threatened, and repeatedly summoned for questioning by security forces in Georgia during an interview with a local news site. He had additionally been investigating the offshore businesses of top Azerbaijani officials in Georgia before his arrest.
Afgan’s kidnapping and sentencing received widespread international condemnation. Both the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs and a member of the European Parliament, Henrik Mortensen, initiated investigations into Afgan’s detention. His detention was further met with statements of condemnation from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe, and prominent international human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others.
On April 23, 2019, Afgan’s family reported that he was suffering from a slew of health issues in prison, including eye pain, severe diabetes, and problems with blood pressure. However, the Azerbaijani government has reportedly refused to treat him. Afgan’s lawyer has appealed the government to have him examined in a private clinic at his own expense.