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Jailed Azerbaijani Journalist Calls His Trial A 'Mockery'

Azerbaijani journalist Afqan Muxtarli
Azerbaijani journalist Afqan Muxtarli

TALA, Azerbaijan -- Jailed Azerbaijani journalist Afqan Muxtarli has told RFE/RL that his trial was a "mockery" of justice and suggested that President Ilham Aliyev was behind it.

Muxtarli was sentenced to six years in prison in January, after being convicted on what he says were politically motivated charges of smuggling, illegal border crossing, and assaulting officials.

He spoke to RFE/RL on February 8 in his native village of Tala in the northwestern Zaqatala district after he was released for two days to attend a memorial service for his sister and two nieces, who died following a gas leak in their home in late December.

Muxtarli and his wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, fled to Georgia in 2015, fearing for their safety in connection with his reporting on suspected corruption in Aliyev's circle.

A day after Muxtarli went missing in Tbilisi in May 2017, Azerbaijani authorities said he was in custody in Baku on suspicion of smuggling and crossing the border illegally.

Muxtarli and his lawyers say he was abducted in Georgia and illegally brought into Azerbaijan.

"It was not a trial that I faced, it was a theater performance, a mockery of justice," Muxtarli said. "Everything in our country is decided by one individual -- he orders the arrests and he orders the releases."

He was clearly referring to Aliyev, who has been president of the oil-producing South Caucasus country of nearly 10 million people since shortly before the death of his long-ruling father, Heydar Aliyev, in 2003.

'Nothing Can Be Predicted'

Rights groups and Western states have condemned Muxtarli's case as part of a long-standing government effort to quash dissent and punish those who question the authorities or seek to expose graft.

"There were in fact no investigations into my case," Muxtarli said. He said it was "absolutely clear for everyone, including the prosecutor's office, investigators, and the court, that I was abducted and handed illegally to our country's custody."

Muxtarli said he is still being held in a temporary detention center and had not expected that the authorities would allow him to attend the memorial service. He said he does not like to make predictions about his future.

"In our country nothing can be predicted," he said. "I personally do not expect that I will be pardoned or get any other kind of clemency. Who knows, maybe I will get an early release if there is a mass amnesty soon. But the authorities are unpredictable."

The governments of the European Union and the United States have called on the Azerbaijani government to release Muxtarli and other politicians, journalists, and activists jailed on politically motivated charges.

Muxtarli's wife, Mustafayeva, has criticized the Georgian authorities for failing to prevent her husband from being taken to Azerbaijan.

She has moved to Germany, saying that she was being followed by the same people she believes seized her husband and felt unsafe in Georgia.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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