The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) has called out for the release of all imprisoned journalists worldwide after Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli was released from prison in Azerbaijan half-way through his prison sentence on Tuesday.
Mukhtarli, an investigative reporter, was freed three years early from a six-year prison sentence and traveled back to Germany to be reunited with his family, ECPMF said. He had been detained since May 2017 after he was abducted in Georgia and taken across the border.
In case you missed it: Azeri investigative journalist, #AfganMukhtarli was released from Prison on 17.03.20 after 3 years of arbitrary detention. He landed in #Berlin to the love of his family. Welcome back comrade! #JournalismNotCrimehttps://t.co/QHYkTdwSke
1/10 (Photo: ECPMF) pic.twitter.com/K8aTEGyBJS
— ECPMF (@ECPMF) March 22, 2020
The journalist was kidnapped and blindfolded with a bag over his head and held in the back of a car until he reached Azerbaijan. He was then charged with illegally crossing the border and smuggling around €10,000 worth, which was said to have been planted on him by his captors.
Mukhtarli was a harsh critic of the Azerbaijani government and his reporting included allegations of corruption involving President Ilham Aliyev and his wife Mehriban.
Following his release, the ECPMF called on European countries and others worldwide to release all journalists who have been detained. “Let these mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, partners, friends… our fellow human beings, go back home like Afgan Mukhtarli,” it said in a tweet.
The organisation also called for justice for Mukhtarli, saying that he should not have paid a €534 fine to be released but “should be the one being paid for all the years lost and the damages to his work and life”.
Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)’s Media Freedom representative Harlem Desir also welcomed the release and said that he was “relieved” that he can now reunite with his family. In a statement, Desir said that he had intervened several times on the journalist’s behalf to Azerbaijani authorities.
I am relieved that Afgan #Mukhtarli was released yesterday, after 3 years in jail in #Azerbaijan. He arrived in Germany yesterday night and could join family and friends. Thanks to all who contributed to his release. See my full statement here: https://t.co/qAe13LDd3E pic.twitter.com/fJXDAvMVV1
— OSCE media freedom (@OSCE_RFoM) March 18, 2020
Last August, The Shift reported that Azerbaijan government was extending its reach to silence journalists beyond its borders.
Before her assassination in 2017, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had been investigating money laundering involving members of the Azerbaijani government and their alleged ties to Malta.