Public Defender Echoes Investigation into Afgan Mukhtarli Case
Exactly 6 months have passed since Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who lived in Georgia, disappeared from the center of Tbilisi on May 29, 2017. According to journalists, he was kidnapped by individuals dressed in the uniforms of the Criminal Police Department, a structural unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, who were speaking in Georgian, and was handed over to the Azerbaijanis, who handcuffed and brutally beat him. An investigation was launched into the abovementioned at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia under Article 143 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which pertains to illegal deprivation of liberty.
On July 20, 2017, after partly considering the Public Defender's proposal, Afgan Mukhtarli's case was handed over to the Investigation Department of the Chief Prosecutor's Office of Georgia. However, the Prosecutor's Office has not yet considered the part of the Public Defender's proposal, where the Public Defender requested victim’s status for Afgan Mukhtarli in order to let him enjoy all his procedural rights. The Public Defender believes there are preconditions for granting victim’s status to Afgan Mukhtarli, since as a result of the alleged offense, he has suffered damage, and he and his lawyers must have more opportunities to observe the ongoing investigation.
In addition, the Prosecutor's Office has not yet outlined the aggravating circumstances of the crime envisaged by the Criminal Code, such as premeditated illegal deprivation of liberty by transferring the victim abroad by a group and/or by transferring the victim abroad by an organized group. The Public Defender indicates that according to the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia, if investigator/prosecutor gets information about certain crime, an investigation may be launched into the case. In the given case, Afgan Mukhtarli indicated immediately after the detention in Azerbaijan that his kidnapping and transfer to Azerbaijan was organized by a group. Consequently, there was a prerequisite to launch an investigation under the paragraph of Article 143 of the Criminal Code of Georgia pertaining to a crime committed under aggregating circumstances. The Public Defender calls on the Prosecutor's Office to change the legal assessment of the case within the ongoing investigation by taking into consideration the aggravating circumstances.
The Public Defender closely observes the events around the case. Among them is the footage of the cameras installed in the vicinity of Grigol Orbeliani Square (former Kolmeurneoba Square). The video stops at the moment when Afgan Mukhtarli is supposed to appear in it and continues with a different scene. In particular, different time, weather and cars are shown in the video. In this regard, The Public Defender's Office appealed to the Chief Prosecutor's Office of Georgia and requested information about whether there were any doubts regarding the authenticity of the video footage and whether relevant examination had been appointed. According to the Prosecutor's Office, footage of tens of various surveillance cameras was obtained in the mentioned case and there is no basis for doubting their authenticity, accordingly, no examination was appointed.
It should also be taken into consideration that according to the information provided by the Ministry of Justice of Georgia, a motion was sent to the Republic of Azerbaijan with regard to questioning of Afgan Mukhtarli. Since neither the Ministry of Justice nor the Prosecutor's Office of Georgia received any reply to the above mentioned motion, the Georgian side applied to the competent authorities of the Republic of Azerbaijan again on July 31, 2017 and September 12, 2017, to accelerate the review of the motion.
The Public Defender of Georgia had communication with the Ombudsman of Azerbaijan with regard to Afgan Mukhtarli’ case.
It is a pity that after six months from the beginning of the investigation, despite the existing high interest, the Prosecutor's Office has not informed public of the results of the investigation, which would have strengthened confidence in a timely and effective investigation.
The Public Defender hopes that the Prosecutor's Office will take all measures to carry out immediate and effective investigation in a timely manner, conduct all investigative actions, including the examination of the authenticity of the video footage, and answer all questions related to this case based on objective evidence, in order to bring all perpetrators to justice. The Public Defender continues to observe the investigation.