Att.: PrimeMinister of Georgia, Mr. Giorgi Krvirikashvili
6 June 2017
Dear Mr. Krvirikashvili,
We write toexpress our deepest concern about the abduction of Afgan Mukhtarli, an exiledAzerbaijani journalist, on 29 May in Tbilisi. He went missing after leaving hiscolleagues in the evening, before resurfacing the following day in Baku in thecustody of Azerbaijan’s state border agency.
Mukhtarli reportsthat he was forced into a car near his home, tied up and beaten. His abductorsput a bag over his head and 10,000 euros were stuffed into his pockets whilecrossing the Azerbaijani border. His lawyer Elchin Sadygov, who managed tovisit him in detention, confirmed that he bore the marks of blows to his faceand that he may have had one of his ribs broken. On 31 May, a court in Bakusentenced him to a three months’ pre-trial detention while he is now beingcharged with smuggling, illegal border crossing and violence against policeauthority.
This disturbingdevelopment does not only expose Afgan Mukhtarli to the possibility of tortureand a long prison sentence, but also sets a worrying precedent, threatening thesecurity of dozens of other Azerbaijanis living in exile in Georgia. Numerousindependent journalists, human rights defenders and other civil societyactivists fled Azerbaijan in recent years to escape repression, but they areincreasingly becoming targets of harassment and persecutions abroad. They werehoping to find a safe haven in Georgia, but must now live with the constantfear of being illegally brought back to their country of origin.
AfganMukhtarli’s abduction and illegal deportation to his country while in processof applying for asylum in Georgia is a clear violation of international law. Theprohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment enshrinedin Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Georgia is astate party, clearly implies an obligation for each country not to expel,extradite or deport an individual to a state, where he or she faces a real riskof being subjected to this type of treatment. It is therefore Georgia’sresponsibility to guarantee the safety of Azerbaijanis living in its territoryand to prevent any forced return to their country.
AfganMukhtarli’s abduction is a black stain on Georgia’s reputation as a leader inupholding human rights standards in the Caucasus region. The Azerbaijaniauthorities are engaged in a relentless war against their remaining critics. TheCouncil of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, stated inMay 2017: “The situation in Azerbaijancontinues to worry me. Since 2015, I have intervened before the European Courtof Human Rights in seven cases, which are in my view emblematic of the humanrights problems of the country: limitations to freedom of expression, shrinkingspace for NGOs, and official harassment of human rights defenders and theirlawyers. While the applicants of the cases I intervened in are no longer inprison, we should not forget all the others who are still detained on chargeswhich defy credibility, often after having expressed critical views against theauthorities.”As the neighbour of such a repressive state, Georgia has a moral duty tomaintain its historical role of welcoming Azerbaijani dissidents.
We welcome theopening of an investigation into Afgan Mukhtarli’s “illegal abduction”. We hopethat it will fully shed light on the abductors’ identities and clarify thepotential role of the Georgian authorities in what happened. A clear messageneeds to be sent regarding that illegal actions of a neighbouring state onGeorgian territory will not be accepted, and that any public servant implicatedin such grave violations of international law will be held accountable.
Georgia has co-sponsored all recent United Nations resolutions on humanrights defenders. Most recently, Georgia was amongst the States expressinggrave concern at the United Nations Human Rights Council – of which Georgia isa member – “that the practice of enforced disappearance is often used torepress and intimidate human rights defenders” (resolution 34/5 adopted on 23 March 2017 by the Human RightsCouncil, with Georgia voting in favour). Thecredibility of Georgia’s commitment to the protection of fundamental rights andfreedoms is hence at stake.
We thank you inadvance for the attention you give to our request.
- Canadian Journalists for FreeExpression
- CEE Bankwatch Network
- Civil Rights Defenders
- Committee to ProtectJournalists
- Crude Accountability
- English PEN
- FIDH, within the framework ofthe Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- Freedom Now
- Human Rights First
- Human Rights House Foundation
- Human Rights Watch
- Index on Censorship
- International Media Support
- International Partnership forHuman Rights
- Institute for War and PeaceReporting
- Netherlands Helsinki Committee
- Norwegian Helsinki Committee
- PEN America
- PEN International
- People in Need
- Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
- World Organisation AgainstTorture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection ofHuman Rights Defenders