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European Union urges urgent release of detained opposition activists in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (L) and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the European Commission in Brussels on February 6, 2017 (Photo by AFP)
The European Union has called on Azerbaijan to immediately release detained opposition figures amid growing global concerns over reports of the Baku government’s crackdown on dissidents.
“A review by Azerbaijan of any and all cases of incarceration related to the exercise of fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression, and immediate release (of) all of those concerned is urgent,” the union’s diplomatic arm said in a statement on Sunday.
“We expect that the due process of law is respected, as well as the civil and political rights of citizens and those residing legally in states other than their own,” it said.
The statement did not mention any figure by name, but made an apparent reference to investigative journalist Afghan Mukhtarli, who was allegedly kidnapped in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on May 29.
Mukhtari, who had been investigating Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s alleged links to corruption, fled to Georgia with his wife in 2015.
However, the journalist was brought across the border to Azerbaijan after being kidnapped and reappeared less than 24 hours later in Azerbaijani border police custody.
He said some plain-clothed men who spoke Georgian, beat him and handed him to Azerbaijani security forces, according to Human Rights Watch.
Azerbaijani investigative journalist and opposing activist Afghan Mukhtarli waves to supporters in Baku on May 30, 2017.
Human Rights Watch slammed the kidnapping as “clumsy and cowardly.”
“No one for a minute will believe that Mukhtarli voluntarily tried to enter Azerbaijan, from where he fled to escape persecution. If Azerbaijani authorities have evidence of wrongdoing they could have pursued him through extradition. Instead, he was abducted by cartoonish gangsters,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch.
Georgia’s Interior Ministry said it had launched an investigation into the journalist’s alleged abduction and denied any involvement in the case. The EU welcomed the investigation.
Mukhtarli stands accused of illegally crossing the country’s border and of smuggling contraband. His lawyers said last week that a district court in Baku ordered the journalist to spend three months in pre-trial detention.
Azerbaijan has been criticized over the past years for its ill human rights record, including reported crackdown on opposition activists such as Mukhtarli and opposition politician Gozel Bayramli.
Any involvement in the kidnapping and transfer of Mukhtarli to Azerbaijan is a serious violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which both Georgia and Azerbaijan are parties.

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