A high price for speaking out: Azerbaijani journalist sentenced to six years in prison on trumped-up charges

Protest of Georgian Journalists in Parliament of Georgia, HR committee.
Photo credit: © netgazeti.ge/guki

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) condemns the conviction of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who was sentenced to six years in prison today, after the Balakan district court found him guilty of illegal border crossing, smuggling and violently resisting a law enforcement official, charges that he strongly denies.

Afgan Mukhtarli is an Azerbaijani journalist and political dissident who wrote about social and political issues for local and international media outlets. Following years of harassment against him and his family, Afgan and his wife Leyla Mustafayeva, also a journalist, left Azerbaijan and fled to Georgia in January 2015. He continued to write about events in Azerbaijan from Tbilisi, Georgia. On 29 May 2017 Afgan Mukhtarli was abducted in Tbilisi, on his way home from a café, and was handed over to the Azerbaijani authorities near the Georgia-Azerbaijan border with EUR 10,000 worth of cash planted in his pocket. He has since been held in extended pre-trial detention in Baku.

​”In retaliation for his critical reporting, Afgan Mukhtarli was abducted in Georgia, and forcibly returned to Azerbaijan where he found himself in detention. Today the court sentenced him to six years in prison on falsified charges. The cruelty of the measures the Azerbaijani authorities are prepared to take to crush dissent appears to have no bounds. Afgan will now join dozens of other journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders who are serving time in harsh prison conditions simply for daring to speak out”, said Brigitte Dufour, the Director of the International Partnership of Human Rights (IPHR).

Afgan’s reporting on the Azerbaijani government often touched on issues relating to corruption, including a series of articles about the Ministry of Defense, as well as a behind-the-scenes account of a shake-up at the Ministry of National Security. He closely monitored Azerbaijan’s crackdown on civil society and documented the government’s harassment of the family members of exiled Azerbaijani dissidents. An article he wrote in January 2017 for Meydan TV addressed the government’s increased use of abductions and kidnappings of critics or perceived critics of the authorities. Before his abduction, Afgan was working on an article about the financial investments of President Aliyev’s family.

IPHR is appalled at the unjust sentencing of Afgan Mukhtarli and calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him, together with other journalists and human rights defenders who are in prison on politically-motivated grounds.

For more background information on his case, see IPHR mission report “Repression beyond Borders: Exiled Azerbaijanis in Georgia”.