Three months have passed, but, still, Azerbaijani reporter Leyla Mustafayeva has no explanation from the Georgian government for how her husband, investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, disappeared from a street in Tbilisi and resurfaced in an Azerbaijani jail.
She has, however, secured one thing – the support of many Georgians impressed by her courage and shamed by a sense that their country’s revered hospitality code failed her husband.
The forty-something Mukhtarli was abducted by unknown individuals on May 29 in the heart of the Georgian capital while on his way to buy bread. He now sits in Baku in pre-trial detention until October 31 on charges of allegedly smuggling 10,000 euros, resisting law enforcement and illegally crossing the Azerbaijani border.
His work reporting on the Azerbaijani presidential family’s potential business interests in Georgia sparked many to suspect that the Georgian government itself had had a hand in his disappearance. Azerbaijan ranks as the country’s largest energy supplier and one of its largest foreign investors.
Though Tbilisi heatedly denied any role in Mukhtarli’s disappearance, its investigation into the abduction appears to have gotten nowhere. The prosecutor’s office did not respond to Tamada Tales’ questions about the progress of its investigation. Nor has it made any public statement.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s much-publicized meeting in late June with Mustafayeva to discuss the case also appears to have led to nothing. Margvelashvili condemned the kidnapping, but has no political power to make officials step up their investigation.
Nino Danelia, a journalism professor and free-media advocate in Tbilisi, does not have high hopes for the government’s probe.
“Everything we have seen so far suggested that the Georgian authorities were involved,” she said. “Now they are drawing it out, hoping that people will get tired of the case.”
Though CCTV cameras speckle the area where he disappeared, no footage of an abduction has ever emerged.
Whoever the instigator, the abduction has put a splotch on Georgia’s international image.
“Afgan Mukhtarli’s arrest is a disgrace for both Azerbaijan and Georgia,” the Paris-based Reporters without Borders charged in an August 29 statement. It has demanded that Tbilisi explain what happened on May 29, and that Baku release Mukhtarli.
Azerbaijan has given no sign of that. On August 31, the Baku appeals court declined his request for house arrest and earlier extended his pre-trial detention by two months -- no reason publicly cited.
“They are in no hurry. They are taking their time to stitch a case against him,” commented Mustafayeva. She claims that Azerbaijani prosecutors questioned Mukhtarli only twice in the past month.
Mustafayeva does not expect to see him for at least several years. “They will make him a bargaining chip to get something out of the European Union, will demand that the Europeans cut down on criticizing the Azerbaijani regime,” she predicted.