An Azerbaijani journalist says he has been forcefully returned from Georgia to Azerbaijan, where he says he is accused of illegally crossing state borders and of smuggling money, according to his attorney.
Lawyer Elchin Sadigov told RFE/RL that he met with his client Afgan Mukhtarli at the headquarters of Azerbaijan’s State Border Service in Baku on May 30, a day after the journalist said he was kidnapped by unknown individuals in Tbilisi.
“Afgan told me that unknown people forced him into an Opel car in Tbilisi near the place where he lives, and that those people in his opinion were from the Georgian secret services,” Sadigov said. “Afgan told me that he was beaten in the car, blindfolded. After two hours the car was changed. Then it was changed again. Afgan says in the third car people were speaking in Azeri.”
“When the third car stopped, they removed his blindfolds, put 10,000 euros, which he had never seen before, into his pocket. He saw that the location where they arrived was a crossing point at the Georgian-Azerbaijanii border. Afgan told me that after crossing the border he was brought to Baku.”
Sadigov said he saw bruises on Mukhtarli’s face and forehead. His client complained of "severe pain" and said he thinks that his ribs are broken, the lawyer added.
Georgia’s Interior Ministry said it had launched an investigation into the alleged “unlawful imprisonment” of Mukhtarli.
Mukhtarli left Azerbaijan three years ago. In Tbilisi, he has held protests in front of Azerbaijan’s embassy and recently wrote about the persecution of Azerbaijani activists in Georgia.
International rights defenders and Western governments have criticized the oil-producing former Soviet republic's government for persistent clampdowns targeting independent journalists and rights defenders.