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Leyla Mustafayeva, the wife of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who was abducted from Tbilisi to Azerbaijan last week, has rejected the Georgian prime minister’s offer of Georgian citizenship.
On 3 June, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili called on President Giorgi Margvelashvili to immediately grant citizenship to Mukhtarli’s wife and daughter.
‘We will do anything to defend the human rights of every person in our country, regardless of their citizenship and political viewpoints’, Kvirikashvili said, several days after the story of Mukhtarli’s abduction broke and gained international attention.
A spokesperson for the president said on 3 June that he was ‘ready to grant citizenship to Mustafayeva and her daughter’.
Mustafayeva rejected the offer soon after, claiming that she does not want to give up her Azerbaijani citizenship. Mustafayeva added that she had applied for a Georgian residence permit a year ago, but was rejected for ‘posing a danger to state security’.
‘Has something changed now? Am I not a dangerous person for Georgia after my husband’s detention? I have a request — please, do not stage a show from the case of a journalist’s abduction, it will be better if law-enforcement agencies investigate the case properly’, Mustafayeva said on 3 June.
Deputy Interior Minister Shalva Khutsishvili met with Mustafaeyva on the same day and offered her ‘additional guarantees’ of her safety.
How was Mukhtarli abducted?
Mukhtarli was last seen in Georgia by his friend on the evening of 29 May. After failing to return home, he resurfaced again in Azerbaijan charged with what his lawyer calls ‘bogus charges’. His lawyer Elchin Sadigov told reporters that Mukhtarli had been kidnapped outside his flat on Tbilisi’s Chonkadze Street by four Georgian speaking men.
According to his lawyers, ‘three of Mukhtarli’s four kidnappers wore police uniforms, and one was dressed in civilian clothing’. His lawyers say that his kidnappers called their superiors every 20 minutes to report in.
Mukhtarli was beaten and taken to the Azerbaijani-Georgian border, where he was detained by Azerbaijani police. Baku’s Sabail District Court imposed three months of pretrial detention on Mukhtarli on 31 May. He is charged with smuggling €10,000 ($11,200), border trespass, and disobeying border guards.
Journalists demand further details
Independent media self-regulatory body the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics has been holding protest rallies with local journalists and activists, urging the Georgian authorities to disclose additional details about the case. The journalists have demanded that Georgia’s authorities explain how Mukhtarli ended up going from Tbilisi to Azerbaijan.
Parliamentary Chairperson Irakli Kobakhidze refused to say on 5 June if he would meet with journalists to discuss Mukhtarli’s case, after being questioned by local media outlet Netgazeti.
Meanwhile, local journalists met with the head of the EU Delegation to Georgia, Ambassador János Herman, to discuss Mukhtarli’s case. ‘We have the same questions as journalists’, Herman said.
‘We will do anything to shed light to this case. We will use every possibility to meet everyone, who might be able to influence our government’, Nata Dzvelishvili, head of the Ethics Charter told on.ge.
After several International rights groups condemned Mukhtarli’s abduction, the US State Department released a statement claiming that they are disturbed by the ‘reported abduction and subsequent arrest of Mukhtarli’ and arrest of Deputy Chairperson of the opposition Popular Front Party, Gozal Bayramli. Bayramli was detained on 26 May while crossing the Georgian–Azerbaijani border, allegedly for smuggling €12,000 ($13,400) in cash.
The US claim that they are closely following the Georgian investigation into the abduction, and have urged that it be full, transparent, and timely. The statement also urged Azerbaijan’s government to release all those ‘incarcerated for exercising their fundamental freedoms’.