In an interview with Meydan TV in Berlin after his release, Afgan Mukhtarli told us about reasons for his arrest, details of his abduction, and about why the Azerbaijani government decided to hastily send him to Berlin without letting him see his friends and close ones in Azerbaijan.
“While in Azerbaijan, I wrote about corruption on part of the ruling family and in different ministries, and embezzlement in the Armed Forces. In Georgia, I worked as a journalist, an investigative journalist, writing about how the Azerbaijani government invests in Georgia money that it steals from the Azerbaijani people. Those articles seriously worried both Azerbaijan and Georgia.
“Days before I was abducted, I gave an interview to Voice of America radio. I told them every single detail of how I would be handed over to the Azerbaijani government. I simply did not expect that it would be done in such a coarse manner. I thought it would be done on the basis of a court ruling. They, however, apparently decided that Georgia’s judiciary was not completely under the government’s control yet. It showed on the example of Dashgin Agalarli (an Azerbaijani emigre). Because Georgian courts found accusations levelled by the Azerbaijani government against Dashgin Agalarli to be absurd and granted him political asylum in Georgia. Apparently, taking that into account, the government handed me over to Azerbaijan using that illegal method. It also involved a bribe offered by Azerbaijan. Georgia was given a large bribe. When meeting with me, several senior officials in Azerbaijan told me that Georgia had received a bribe to the tune of more than 3 million USD. It was allegedly done by the former leadership of the National Security Ministry. However, in any case, it was the work of the Azerbaijani state. These kinds of decisions are made by Ilham Aliyev himself, not by a minister.
“It was an incorrect decision to abduct me, it was not even to the benefit of the government. They also put the Georgian government into jeopardy, very serious jeopardy, both in terms of its image and in terms of financial investments. International organizations had conducted numerous events there, and that generated major revenues for the tourism sector in Georgia. However, most international organizations stopped conducting events there and chose other countries.”
“How were you treated in prison? Did you suffer any physical or mental abuse?”
“No, no, what was physical torture? From 29 May to 30 May, I was manacled. That is, after being abducted in Tbilisi and up until arriving at the Border Troops investigations department – for more than 24 hours – I had my hands manacled. I travelled from Tbilisi to Baku manacled and I spent the night manacled. That was physical torture. But I was not beaten or insulted or subjected to mental abuse.
“Media and also your friends and close ones reported that you went on a hunger strike. Why did you do it?”
“After meeting with me, my defense lawyer, Nemat Karimli, was assaulted by a deputy chief of the correctional facility, Emin Eminaliyev. They hit him and took documents away from him and gave those documents back to him after making copies of them. I was told so by prisoners who witnessed the incident. That is, I learnt about it not from Nemat Karimli, but from prisoners. I went on a hunger strike in protest against the incident. I did not eat for four days. I could not hunger strike for more than four days because I have diabetes and you cannot hunger strike for more than four days if you have diabetes. That’s how long I was able to do it. It’s not even that I was starving or feeling dizzy. I lost vision. I took freight that I would go blind and for this reason I ended the hunger strike.”
“It was reported several times starting from last fall that they wanted to release you. Were those reports true?”
“Talk about it started when I obtained a new foreign passport while in prison. Then, representatives of the Azerbaijani government started visiting me. They said they wanted to release me. Also then, MPs from the Council of Europe, two MPs, met with me. Those visits continued until December. The Azerbaijani government was set to release me. Several court hearings were held. But they did not release me. And the last time I wrote an appeal, just a couple of sentences, asking to have my measure of restraint changed. And as I wrote that appeal, I thought that the same scenario as in December would repeat – that they would propose during a court hearing that the consideration of the case be rescheduled. I thought so. And, to be honest, I did not expect to be released, because I was told for six months that they would release me this time round, and they held hearings. But they did not release me. And this time round, I did not tell anyone… I did not tell even my friends in prison about it. I did not think it would happen. But suddenly they released me.”