The United States is disturbed by the January 12 sentencing of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli to a six-year prison term.
Fearing persecution as a journalist, Mr. Mukhtarli had fled from Azerbaijan to Georgia two years earlier.
On May 30, 2017, according to accounts Mr. Mukhtarli gave his wife and lawyer, he was kidnapped near his home in Tbilisi, beaten, blindfolded, driven in three separate cars and brought to an Azerbaijani border crossing, where 10,000 euros were stuffed in his pockets.Mr. Mukhtarli was subsequently arrested in Azerbaijan on smuggling and other related charges, widely considered by human rights organizations to be politically motivated.Mr. Mukhtarli has denied all charges brought against him.
Local and international human rights defenders have recognized Mr. Mukhtarli as a political prisoner. His colleagues have said that he is being persecuted for his publications critical of corruption at the highest levels of power in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan is currently ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The rights organization says “President Ilham Aliyev's government has gone all out to eliminate media pluralism in recent years. The leading outspoken media outlets have all been throttled financially or forcibly closed. At least 13 journalists and two bloggers are currently detained in connection with their reporting.”
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert urged “the government of Azerbaijan to release Mr. Mukhtarli and all those incarcerated for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”
She added, “We continue to closely follow the Georgian investigation into the reported abduction, and reiterate our call that it be full, transparent, and timely.”