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Civil society and media organizations address the Parliament and Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia with regard to Afgan Mukhtarli’s case

19.02.2018

 
Almost 9 months have passed since the investigation started in the abduction case of the Azerbaijani journalist and activist Afgan Mukhtarli from the territory of Georgia but regardless high public interest to this case we have not received information about ongoing investigation process. We still have doubts about alleged participation of the Georgian law enforcement bodies in the organized crime and in general, about possible political loyalty of the Government of Georgia towards Azerbaijani authority in the cases of Azerbaijan dissidents. Furthermore, serious miscarriages identified in the process of investigation significantly reduces public trust and expectations towards effectiveness of the investigation. Having that, considering high political and social value of the case, the under-signatory organizations call on the Parliament of Georgia to establish temporary investigative commission and ensure effective parliamentary control over the Afgan Mukhtarli’s case. At the same time, we urge the Chief Prosecutor’s Office to engage international investigators/experts in the process of investigation and ensure high accountability and transparency in the process. 

Regardless high public interest towards Afgan Mukhtarli’s case, the process analysis shows that it is going through significant violations that undermines independence and effectiveness of the investigation. 

Issue of institutional independence about the case. Although Afgan Mukhtarli soon after the detention stated that his abduction from the territory of Georgia was allegedly organized with direct participation of the Georgian criminal police officers, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia started probe into the case that comes in conflict with the standards of institutional independence. The case was forwarded for the investigation to the prosecutor’s office only on July 20, 2017, two months later.

The MIA collected fundamentally important evidence, including the video-recordings, through significant procedural violations. According to our information, the investigation did not withdraw video-recordings from the cameras of private companies, which are located alongside the motorway from Tbilisi to Lagodekhi. As for the cameras of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the witness stated the cameras were off. According to the case materials, the cameras were not functioning at the border-immigration office “Tsodna” (Lagodekhi) either. Failure of the MIA to obtain essential and direct evidence of the crime reinforces our doubts about partiality and ineffectiveness of the investigation.

Furthermore, explanations provided to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and to the journalists of the TV-Company Rustavi 2, which independently investigated the abduction of Afgan Mukhtarli raises doubts that allegedly the MIA officers erased the video-recordings from the private cameras.

The public statement of the Minister of Interior about Afgan Mukhtarli’s case reinforced the assumption about ineffectiveness of the investigation, as he repeated the official version of the Azerbaijani authority and denied political persecution of Afgan Mukhtarli from the side of the Azerbaijani authority. 

All in all, the miscarriages identified in the initial stage of the investigation and infringed standards of institutional independence of the investigation, significantly reduced possibility to estimate the truth in the case and continue effective investigation in it. 

Problem of case qualification. Until now, the investigation is going under Article 143 Part I of the Criminal Code of Georgia (illegal restriction of freedom). Although the case circumstances reveal participation of organized group in the abduction process, in transporting him across the border as well as significant harm to the family of Afgan Mukhtarli and the state interests of Georgia, the prosecutor’s office did not change the qualification of the case into Article 143 Part IV of the GCC regardless many petitions of the advocate. At the same time, the investigation neglects hindering journalistic activities of Mukhtarli and his wife Leyla Mustafaeva though it should also become subject of investigation (Article 154 of the GCC).

Refusal to grant victim status. 9 months have passed since the investigation started into the case. However, due to absence of well-grounded assumption about the crime, the prosecutor’s office denies to grant victim status to Afgan Mukhtarli (and to Leyla Mustafaeva under Article 154 of the GCC). This decision excludes effective participation of the victim side in the investigation process; with the restricted public control over the investigation our doubts about illusory investigation are increasing.

Problem of substantial investigation. Regardless the clarifications of the investigative bodies that they questioned over 200 witnesses and collected significant volume of video-recordings, considerable part of the evidence is not relevant – big part of the questioned witnesses had no connection with the case. Yet the investigation could not estimate the car, by which Afgan Mukhtarli was kidnapped and could not restore its itinerary including crossing the border. 

Issue of possible political loyalty in the case. Case analysis of the journalists and activists from Azerbaijan, who have sheltered Georgia, reveal that since 2016 the Government of Georgia refused big part of Azerbaijani activists/journalists to give residence permits or refugee status, when they fled from Azerbaijani authority. In all cases the reason of refusal was interests of “national security service”, which is not subject of effective and real judiciary control. Part of dissidents speak about their persecution and surveillance by certain individuals in Georgia and about negligence of the Georgian police and ineffective reaction on these facts. In similar situation, big part of Azerbaijani activists/journalists had to leave Georgia. Abduction case of Afgan Mukhtarli became the vivid example of this practice and politicization of human rights. 

The interview of the deputy chairperson of the Human Rights Parliamentary Committee of Azerbaijan Elman Nasirov to the Radio Liberty on June 9, 2017 reinforces our doubts, who said that Afgan Mukhtarli was arrested as a result of joint effort of Azerbaijani and Georgian special services (later he denied his statement). 

Self-critical statement of the Georgian Prime Minister about the case and the decision of the Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia to dismiss heads of the border and counter-intelligence departments, shall not be evaluated as enough reaction from the authority. 

Assessments of the international organizations were extremely critical about Afgan Mukhtarli’s case and called on the Government of Georgia to ensure timely and effective investigation. On June 3, 2017 the US State Department expressed concern about the fact and called on Georgia to ensure full, transparent and timely investigation. The June 15, 2017 resolution of the European Parliament also stresses out importance of transparent investigation. On January 12, 2018 the  US State Department stated that continue to closely follow the Georgian investigation into the reported abduction, and reiterate their call that it be full, transparent, and timely. All these statements indicate that it is inadmissible to leave questions and doubts about the case unaddressed. The dragged out investigation seriously harms the human rights state in Georgia and international reputation of the country.

Regardless the request of local and international communities to ensure effective investigation into Afgan Mukhtarli’s case, the investigation is still ineffective. Consequently, due to particular political and social importance of the case, the under-signatory organizations call on the Parliament of Georgia to establish temporary investigative commission in accordance to the Parliament of Georgia and the Rules of Procedures of the Parliament about Afgan Mukhtarli’s case and to ensure parliamentary hearing of the Minister of Interior and other responsible public officials, including chief prosecutor about the case.

In line with abovementioned circumstances, the under-signatory organizations call on the Chief Prosecutor of Georgia 

within relevant format of cooperation, ensure engagement of experts and investigators from partner countries (USA and EU member states) in the process of investigation, as they already have similar experience with regard to other significant cases;

Considering high public interest towards the case, timely inform interested organizations about the progress and future plans of the investigation;

to proactively publish information about the investigation progress

Signatory organizations:

  • Article 42 of the Constitution
  • Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
  • Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)
  • Human Rights House Tbilisi
  • Human Rights Center
  • Media Development Fund (MDF)
  • Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)
  • Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI)
  • Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF)
  • Transparency International –Georgia
  • Caucasian Institute of Peace, Democracy and Development 
  • Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)
  • International Society for Free Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
  • Georgian Reforms Association (GRASS)
  • Civil Development Agency (CiDA)
  • Partnership for Human Rights (PHR)
  • Rehabilitation Initiative for Vulnerable Groups
  • Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics
  • Safari
  • Georgian Center for Psycho-Social and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (GCRT)
  • Network of Information Centers
  • Georgian Business Media Association
  • Constitutional Research Center 
  • Governance Monitoring Center
  • Media Institute
  •  Institute of Democracy and Safe Development (IDSD)
  • TV Pirveli
  • Liberali
  • Monitor 
  • JAMnews
  • Media Club
  • Netgazeti
  • Batumelebi
  • Rustavi 2
  • Tabula 

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