“You can arrest one reporter, but a dozen others will take their place“


Journalists have worn bags on their heads in parliament and on TV as a silent protest and mark of solidarity with Afghan Mukhtarli. The Azeri reporter - who had sought refuge in Tbilisi with his wife and young daughter - was abducted  by persons unknown. He was taken to the Azeri capital Baku, charged with smuggling currency and illegally crossing the border and placed in pre-trial detention.

Afghan Mukhtarli silent protest and mark of solidarity with Afghan Mukhtarli (Rustavi2)

Now Georgian journalists have raised the issue in the country’s parliament, holding a bags-on-heads demonstration in support of Mukhtarli, who reportedly had a bag pulled over his head when he was kidnapped. On national television Rustavi2, Giorgi Gabunia wore a bag to interview the Deputy Interior Minister Shalva Khutshishvili. But the minister refused to talk unless the bag was removed, and left the studio, according to BBC Monitoring. Presenter Inga Grigolia wore a bag at the start of her show on TV Pirveli, and also held up a picture of the kidnapped journalist.

And the Rustavi2 journalists have made a documentary showing which CCTV cameras need to be examined to see what happened to Mukhtarli. They have worked out where the cameras are and when exactly the relevant footage would show the faces of the men who carried out the abduction. Georgia’s Interior Minister Giorgi Mgebrishvili held a press conference after Mukhtarli’s disappearance, promising a full enquiry. But so far there is no official word on any progress on this.

The United Nations-backed English language website quotes the Georgian state security chief insisting that the investigation will not be rushed:

“Vakhtang Gomelauri, head of the State Security Service, said 'we should not hurry up' with conclusions and added that “as the Azerbaijani side is saying, he was arrested while crossing the 'green border' [unregulated part of the ground border] and not at the border crossing point.” He also said that the details of this reported border crossing need to be ascertained.

Afghan Mukhtarli used to work as a bodyguard for the Azeri journalist Khadija Ismaileva, who was freed in 2016 from a seven year prison term after an international outcry. Her employer the OCCRP has issued a statement in support of Mukhtarli.

It is a message of defiance:

“Mukhtarli has been working on stories on the business holdings of the family of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev in Georgia. OCCRP will continue his work on these stories until his release. When OCCRP partner, journalist Khadija Ismayilova, was arrested in Baku in 2014, OCCRP continued her work and published the Khadija Project, a series of investigative stories about the corruption of the Aliyev family, while she was in prison. The message is clear. You can arrest one of our reporters, but a dozen others will take their place. The truth will get out.“

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