Kleptocratic Regime Intensifies Repression against Anti-Corruption Activists in the Run Up to Presidential Election

January 13th, 2018

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns the politically motivated sentencing of investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli and demands his immediate release.

Despite the completely fabricated evidence against him and outrageous circumstances of his arrest, the journalist, whom Azerbaijani intelligence agencies abducted in the capital of neighboring Georgia and then secretly and illegally transferred to Azerbaijan, was convicted by Balakan Regional Court of resistance to authority (Article 315 of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan), illegal border crossing (Article 318 of the Criminal Code) and smuggling (Article 206 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to six years in jail on January 12, 2018.

“The abduction, arrest and conviction of an investigative journalist living and continuing his professional activities in the territory of neighboring Georgia show that the authorities seek to prevent the exposure of corruption by resorting to blatantly illegal cross-border actions of persecution and violence against journalists,” IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov said. “The way the authorities decided to deal with Afghan Mukhtarli is not only unprecedented for Azerbaijan or Georgia, but also an unprecedented act of state terror for the entire world community, as no similar incident has ever been recorded in the world in the last two decades where a journalist was abducted by intelligence agencies and sent back to a country which he had been forced to flee for fear of persecution,” Huseynov concluded.

IRFS expresses its deep concern that to this day the Georgian law enforcement agencies have not completed and unreasonably delayed the investigation of Mukhtarli’s abduction, although they themselves initiated a criminal case into this fact on the charge of illegal restriction of freedom. IRFS considers the Georgian government’s efforts insufficient and calls upon them to promptly identify the masterminds and perpetrators of this crime and inform the world community about this. IRFS further calls on the Georgian authorities to more vigilantly ensure the safety of other Azerbaijani journalists and civil society activists, as alarm bells have recently started to ring from Georgia about impending provocations on the part of Azerbaijani intelligence agencies against the critics of the Aliyev regime.

IRFS reminds the international community that blogger and activist Mehman Galandarov, who had previously lived in political exile in Georgia in 2016 but was forced to return to Azerbaijan for the funeral reception for his deceased mother and was subsequently arrested on a fabricated drug possession charge, died in an Azerbaijani prison under unclear circumstances in April of 2017. Galandarov and Mukhtarli were active dissidents who periodically organized protests in Tbilisi in front of the Azerbaijani embassy in Georgia, demanding the release of arrested prisoners of conscience. Despite numerous international calls to investigate Mehman Galandarov’s tragic death, no one has been punished for his death in politically motivated incarceration.

In a strange confluence of circumstances, Afgan Mukhtarli’s sister was found dead along with two underage children on the last day of the outgoing year, at noon on December 31, 2017. Although the authorities started a criminal investigation into the mysterious tragic death of the three members of the journalist’s family and stated that the preliminary cause of the death is poisoning from carbon monoxide, the refusal to temporarily release Afgan Mukhtarli to participate in the funeral of his deceased sister and two underage nephews makes one think that the Azerbaijani authorities not only lack simple human compassion, but also deliberately use the death of close relatives to exert stronger psychological pressure on their critic.

IRFS once again urges the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately release Afgan Mukhtarli and everyone imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including journalists Mehman Huseynov, Seymur Hazi, Aziz Orujov, Nijat Aliyev, Araz Guliyev, Fikrat Ibishbayli, Afgan Sadigov, Elchin Ismayilli, Javid Shiraliyev, Ziya Asadli and Arshad Ibrahimov, bloggers Rashad Ramazanov and Ilkin Rustemzade, writers Saday Shakarli and Tofig Hasanov, as well as graffiti activists Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov.

IRFS calls on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to begin at its regular January session to voice calls condemning the authorities of Azerbaijan for the persecution of journalists and disregard for their obligations to comply with the high standards of the Council of Europe in the sphere of fundamental human rights.

IRFS calls on the legislative and executive bodies of the leading democracies of the European Union and the OSCE to start applying individual sanctions against rampant violators of human rights in the form of an entry ban and also seizure of assets in the form of bank accounts and movable and immovable property.

IRFS separately calls on the European Commission to suspend all negotiations with the Azerbaijani authorities on the development and approval of the text of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Treaty and also calls on the members of the European Parliament to launch hearings on the following theme: “How consistent is the current level of repression with the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect for the common European ideals of democracy and human rights?”

IRFS calls on the world’s leading international financial institutions to stop providing any assistance to the Azerbaijani authorities until they are more accountable and stop brutally cracking down on leading corruption fighters such as investigative journalists.

Taking into account the upcoming presidential elections of October 2018, this year, as with all election years, will see any form of criticism suffer increased crackdown by the ruling regime that has held power for the last 25 years and been strengthening nepotism and kleptocracy day by day right before the eyes of the world community. IRFS calls on the international community to show solidarity with the civil society of Azerbaijan and protect and support free and alternative voices more effectively and systematically both inside and outside of the country.

IRFS STATEMEN 12 Jan 2018