Georgia offers citizenship to the family of investigative journalist who was taken to Azerbaijan by force from Tbilisi.
The wife of a Tbilisi-based Azeri investigative journalist, who was taken to Azerbaijan against his will and arrested, has turned down Georgia’s citizenship offer, denouncing the move as “a show”.
The offer came on Sunday, days after the Georgian government faced accusations of allowing Azerbaijan to crack down on critics from across the border. Georgia denied any involvement.
The abducted journalist, Afgan Mukhtarli, had been investigating Georgian business ties of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev’s family, claimed Mukhtarli’s wife Leyla Mustafayeva.
On Sunday, Mustafayeva said she would not accept the citizenship offered by Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili earlier in the day.
“Last year I applied for a Georgian residency permit. I was told I had a high-risk occupation [investigative journalism] and it was not compatible with Georgia’s national interests. So now that my husband is arrested I am no longer dangerous?” she said.
“There is no need for turning one journalist’s arrest, my husband’s arrest, into a show … It would be better to instruct the security services to investigate the case properly. My lawyer and I still don’t have any information. The case was not discussed with us at all.”
Mustafayeva was responding to Kvirikashvili’s Sunday speech in which he urged Georgia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili to make an exception for Mukhtarli’s wife and children and grant them Georgian citizenship within the shortest time possible.
He said Mukhtarli’s case was damaging Georgia’s “image, which is absolutely unacceptable”.
“We will do everything to make sure that every single person’s human rights are protected in the country irrespective of the person’s nationality, or political views,” Kvirikashvili said.
Human Rights Watch, an international rights group, has said the Georgian government “shares responsibility for [Mukhtarli’s] fate and should come clean about its role in his illegal detention and return [to Azerbaijan]”.
According to HRW, Mukhtarli, 43, told his lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, who spoke to him in custody, that unidentified men who abducted him and beat him spoke Georgian among themselves and addressed him in Russian.
Mukhtarli said that they changed vehicles twice and people in the second vehicle spoke Azeri. He was taken to an Azerbaijani border checkpoint in Balakan district on May 29 where he was told he had illegally crossed the border.
According to him, Azeri authorities staged a trespassing incident in the early hours of May 30 and photographed him. Later, he was handcuffed and transported to Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.
Azerbaijani law requires a person to show a valid passport before crossing the Azerbaijani-Georgia border, but Mukhtarli’s passport remains in Tbilisi, said the HRW report.