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Freed Azerbaijani journalist Afqan Muxtarli arrives in Berlin on March 17.

An Azerbaijani court in Baku on March 17 ordered the release of investigative reporter Afqan Muxtarli from prison, commuting a six-year sentence, according to the media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

He was flown to Germany the same day where his wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, lives in exile, she told CPJ.

“We are relieved that Afqan Muxtarli is free and on his way to reunite with his family. But he should not have spent a single day in jail,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator.

“Azerbaijani authorities should release all remaining journalists from jail and allow them to report freely and safely. Those involved in Muxtarli's abduction from Georgia and unlawful imprisonment in Azerbaijan should be held responsible.”

Muxtarli was abducted in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, on May 29, 2017, and subsequently transferred to Azerbaijan, where he was convicted of smuggling, illegally crossing the border, and using force against a government official.

He has maintained his innocence and called the charges false.

Human Rights Watch has dismissed the charges as "politically motivated."

The journalist contributed to independent new outlets Meydan TV and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

He had lived in exile since 2014 before his kidnapping three years later.

In Tbilisi, he had held protests in front of Azerbaijan’s embassy and wrote about the persecution of Azerbaijani activists in Georgia.

Svetlana Prokopyeva

The representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has expressed "serious concerns" about the ongoing prosecution of Russian journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva.

OSCE representative Harlem Desir on March 17 reiterated his call for Russian authorities to drop the terrorism charges brought against Prokopyeva, saying she "had no involvement in any terrorist activity or an intention to condone terrorism."

Desir's plea came a day after Prokopyeva, a freelance contributor for RFE/RL's Russian Service, said she had been handed an indictment document at the prosecutor's office in Pskov.

Prokopyeva has denies the charge. She describes the criminal case against her as an attempt to "murder the freedom of speech" in Russia.

If convicted, she faces up to seven years in prison.

The charges against Prokopyeva stem from a November 2018 commentary for the Pskov affiliate of Ekho Moskvy in which she discussed a bombing that occurred the previous week outside the Federal Security Service (FSB) offices in the far northern city of Arkhangelsk.

Russian media reported that the suspected bomber, a teenager who died in the explosion, had posted statements on social media accusing the FSB of falsifying criminal cases.

In her commentary, Prokopyeva linked the teenager's statements to the political climate in Russia under President Vladimir Putin. She suggested that political activism in the country was severely restricted, leading people to despair.

In his March 17 statement, Desir said that "her comments, however critical, had nothing to do with the promotion or support of terrorism."

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has said the charges were brought against Prokopyeva "in a cynical effort to silence an independent journalist."

The case has drawn criticism from media rights groups like Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the European Federation of Journalists.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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