The trial of investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli began in Azerbaijan’s Balakan District Court on 30 November. Mukhtarli was abducted from Georgia and taken to Azerbaijan in May, where he was charged with illegally crossing the border in possession of €10,000 ($11,200) in illegal money, which Mukhtarli’s lawyer claims was planted on him.
Mukhtarli has pleaded innocent to all charges, and claims he is being prosecuted for his political and journalistic work.
‘This is not a court; it’s a show’, Mukhtarli told journalists outside the court, before being taken back to pre-trial detention.
The Balakan District Court near the Georgian–Azerbaijani border agreed to allow Mukhtarli to sit next to his lawyer, but denied all other motions from the defence.
According to Georgian investigative website iFact, judge Humbar Salimov ruled against motions calling for charges against Mukhtarli to be dropped, for him to be released from prison and placed under house arrest, and others.
The judge also reportedly dismissed a motion calling for expert analysis for fingerprints on the money Mukhtarli was allegedly carrying and another demanding examination of surveillance footage showing the condition Mukhtarli crossed the border.
The next hearing is scheduled for 14 December.
Six months after the incident, nothing is clear
On 29 November, the Georgian Public Defender released an assessment of the investigation Georgian authorities launched into his abduction, saying it is a ‘pity that after six months from the beginning of the investigation, despite high interest, the Prosecutor's Office has not informed the public of the results of the investigation, which would have strengthened confidence in a timely and effective investigation’.
Mukhtarli has been denied bail several times, despite his lawyers claiming he suffers from diabetes and heart disease, and has been denied proper treatment in jail.
A number of international rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called on Azerbaijani authorities to release him.
Mukhtarli disappeared near his flat on 29 May in Tbilisi, after having dinner with his friend somewhere near Tbilisi’s Orbeliani Square, 15 minutes away from the place Mukhtarli and his family were staying. He appeared in custody in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku a day later. He claims he was abducted by Azerbaijani security services, with possible Georgian involvement.
[Read more on Mukhtarli’s abduction on OC Media: Tbilisi-based Azerbaijani journalist abducted to Azerbaijan]
Mukhtarli says he was abducted near his house by plain-clothed men who spoke Georgian. The men put the journalist into a car, tied him up, put a bag over his head, and drove him for roughly two hours. According to him, the abductors changed cars before putting him into a third car, with Azerbaijani-speaking people in it. When they removed the bag from his head, he was already on the other side of the Azerbaijan–Georgia border crossing point.
Mukhtarli’s wife Leyla Mustafayeva told the media that his passport remained in Tbilisi. Mustafayeva has fled Georgia to Germany, where she, like a number of Azerbaijani activists in exile, is seeking asylum.