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25.08.2017

Georgia: German embassy should speed up visa process

(This article was first published in German on the website of Reporters Without Borders Germany)

UPDATE: Meanwhile, due to the lack of progress in their visa applications to the German embassy in Tbilisi, Javid Abdullajev and Fatima Karimova have withdrawn their requests.

Reporters Without Borders and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) are appealing to the German embassy in Georgia not to slow down the process of granting visas for Azerbaijani journalists in exile who are being persecuted. The latest example is the case of the journalist Javid Abdullajev. The employee of the Berlin-based exile news portal Meydan TV has been trying since the beginning of July to get a visa to spend three months in Germany with his wife. Journalists who have fled Azerbaijan and their families are under increasing pressure. At the end of May the exiled journalist Afgan Mukhtarli was abducted from the capital Tbilisi to Azerbaijan who he is now in pre-trial detention.

Javid Abdullajew Waiting for the German Embassy to act: Azerbaijani journalist Javid Abdullajew (picture © Meydan TV)

Reporters Without Borders and the ECPMF are appealing to the German embassy in Georgia not to slow down the process of granting visas for Azerbaijani journalists in exile who are being persecuted. The latest example is the case of the journalist Javid Abdullajev. The employee of the Berlin-based exile news portal Meydan TV has been trying since the beginning of July to get a visa to spend three months in Germany with his wife. Journalists who have fled Azerbaijan and their families are under increasing pressure. At the end of May the exiled journalist Afgan Mukhtarli was abducted from the capital Tbilisi to Azerbaijan who he is now in pre-trial detention.

His wife Leyla Mustafayeva, who also works as a journalist, was earlier prevented from taking up a stipend from the ECPMF because the German authorities did not give her a visa. “Recently, since the abduction of Afgan Mukhtarli it is clear that Azerbaijani exiled journalists are not safe in Georgia,“ said Reporters Without Borders' managing director Christian Mihr. “The German embassy in Tbilisi must take these severe threats seriously and should not put journalists who are seeking refuge into avoidable danger through bureaucratic and restrictive visa processes.“

In the past dozens of independent journalists and human rights defenders have fled the massive repression in Azerbaijan to neighbouring Georgia. Now even in exile they are experiencing attempts to intimidate them and persecution. Since the abduction of Mukhtarli they must also live in fear, even in Georgia, that they will be kidnapped and taken to Azerbaijan where torture and long spells in jail await them.

Although Reporters Without Borders and the ECPMF have repeatedly drawn attention to these developments, the German authorities are still refusing entry visas to Azerbaijani exiled journalists living in Georgia.

Embassy demands additional paperwork and puts off applicants

Javid Abdullayev has worked for Meydan TV since the beginning of 2014 and among other things has reported about the manipulation of the local elections in Azerbaijan in December 2014. 

His wife Fatima Karimova also joined the Meydan TV team after completing her journalism studies in the autumn of last year.Theonline news platform was first founded in 2013 as an exiled TV station with support from Reporters Without Borders, in order to disseminate independent news from and about Azerbaijan. Since then Meydan TV has developed into an important source of independent information for Azerbaijan and is also recognised by Western media as a source for news.

Reporters Without Borders and Meydan TV have invited Abdullayev and Karimova to a three-month secondment with stipend in Germany, which should originally have started on 17th July 2017. On 5th July Abdullayev and Karimova tried to hand in the paperwork at the German embassy in Tbilisi for national visas – limited to Germany.They did not accept their documents and advised the journalists to apply for Schengen visas. Both of them did this on July 7th. Now the embassy tells them they must have residence permits for Georgia that are valid for at least six months after their planned return to the country. At this point both of them had valid residence permits for Georgia, but as advised they got themselves new ones that are valid for one year and handed in their complete paperwork for the Schengen visas on August 4th. According to the embassy website the normal time it takes for a visa application is six working days. At the end of this period Abdullayev got back to the embassy. 

He was told that no decision had yet been made about the visas and the process could take up to three months. No reason was given for the longer time it would take to process them.

Abducted from exile and imprisoned in Azerbaijan

Before his abduction Afgan Mukhtarli lived in exile in Georgia for two years and was known as a tough critic of the regime in Azerbaijan. His lawyer Elchan Sadigov says his client was forced into a car on the evening of May 29th near his home and tied up and beaten by persons unknown.

They planted several thousand euros in his pocket before he found himself in the hands of Azerbaijani border guards. Mukhtarli wasaccused of smuggling and illegally crossing the border. At the moment he is in pre-trial detention in Azerbaijan. Reporters Without Borders and 22 other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have called on the Georgian government to properly investigate the circumstances of Mukhtarli’s abduction. The government in Tbilisi has rejected the suspicion that Georgian security forces were involved in the abduction. Mukhtarli had turned to Reporters Without Borders in autumn 2016 asking for help for himself and his family, as they were suffering because the situation for Azerbaijani opponents of the regime was becoming more and more difficult. 

The authorities in Tbilisi refused a residence permit to his wife Leyla Mustafayeva, who also works as a journalist, in Septmeber 2016 on the grounds that this would threaten Georgia’s national security.

After Mukhtarli’s abduction the government offered her Georgian citizenship, which Mustayeva rejected. At the time of his abduction Mukhtarli was researching for the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) on the business connections of the family of Azerbaijan’s President Ilcham Aliyev. At the beginning of May on the website haqqin.az, which supports the regime, an article appeared about an alleged anti-Azerbaijani underground movement in Georgia, that was trying to overthrow the government in Baku.

According to observers haqqin.az is read by the elites of Baku, to find out who has fallen from grace and will be the next in danger of being dismissed or detained.

No longer safe in Georgia

Mukhtarli’s wife Mustafayeva has reported that persons unknown are following her and her child and trying to intimidate them. She believes they are the same people who were surveilling her husband before he was abducted. Other Azerbaijani journalists exiled in Georgia are also reporting threats and intimidation attempts. In April Jamal Ali, a musician and Meydan TV producer in Berlin, was stopped at the airport in Tbilisi. Possibly this was connected to a report in which he had criticised the Azerbaijan’s delivery of free gas to Georgian churches. Georgia has developed into a place of refuge for Azerbaijani opponents of the government over the past few years, while the regime in Baku has treated critics ever more harshly and restricted their freedom as citizens. 

Not only during the protests against the change of power from Haider Aliyev to his son Ilcham in October 2003, but also in street demonstrations against the authoritarian regime in March 2013, numerous Azerbaijanis fled into the neighbouring country which is politically more liberal. 

Yet since both South Caucasus countries are moving closer economically and politically, the pressure is growing on exiled Azerbaijanis in Georgia. The latter is highly dependent on its mineral-rich neighbour for energy supplies, whilst Azerbaijan needs Georgia as a transit country for its oil and gas for its European markets.Azerbaijan is at the lower end of the Reporters Without Borders rankings at 162 out of 180, and Georgia in 64th place. 

At least 14 journalists and bloggers are in jail in Azerbaijan because of their work.

 





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