Azeri Journalist Denied House Arrest After Family Tragedy
More than a month into the controversial trial of journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, the Azerbaijan court denied his request to attend the funeral of his sister and her two children and be released to house arrest so he could better deal with his loss.
Mukhtarli disappeared May 29 from a Tbilisi street and was next seen in a Baku prison. The reporter claims to have been kidnapped, blindfolded, and taken across the border. However, charges against him say he crossed into Azerbaijan illegally, carrying 10,000 euro of undeclared currency, and assaulting a border guard.
Mukhtarli fled to Georgia in 2014 after being threatened in relation to his investigative reporting on alleged corruption in the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry. Before he dissapeared in May in Tbilisi, he was investigating the assets of the Azerbaijan’s first family in Georgia.
Mukhtarli’s appearance in Balakan District Court on Friday was his first since the tragic death of his sister, a nephew and a niece on December 31 in what appears to be an accident caused by a leaky gas stove in their apartment. An investigation is underway.
A courtroom observer described Mukhtarli as "sad but strong".
The reporter’s dissapearance from Georgia and reappearance in Baku as well as his trial have raised eyebrows among human rights activists, colleagues and European institutions.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution on June 15, 2017, urging Azerbaijan to “immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against and release Afgan Mukhtarli.”
The European Court of Human Rights is already reviewing Mukhtarli's complaint.
For the first time since the trial began, the court discussed Georgian government documents concerning the journalist’s disappearance from the country.
But those were simply statements already available on the websites of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Prosecutor's Office, which say an investigation is underway. After translation, the Azerbaijan prosecutor asked for more time to study the documents.
His lawyers also complained again that a physical exam they requested immediately after his arrest to prove he was beaten was not conducted for 40 days, by which time the injuries were no longer visible.
The next hearing is scheduled for 11 am on January 12.