New York, January 12, 2018--A district court in Azerbaijan today convicted veteran investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli on charges of illegally crossing the border, resisting police arrest, and contraband, and sentenced him to six years in prison, media reported.
Mukhtarli, who lived in self-imposed exile in Tbilisi, Georgia, went missing on May 29, 2017, and surfaced the following day in detention in his native Azerbaijan, regional and local media reported at the time. The journalist pleaded not guilty on all counts, and his lawyers called the charges "politically motivated."
Mukhtarli's wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, told CPJ that the journalist will appeal the verdict.
"Azerbaijani authorities must learn to tolerate investigative journalism and stop throwing critics in jail," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. "We call on Baku authorities not to contest Afgan Mukhtarli's appeal and to release him now, unconditionally."
Before his detention, Mukhtarli was investigating the assets of Azerbaijan's first family in Georgia, according to a Facebook post by his colleague, independent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.
Azerbaijan held 10 journalists behind bars when CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1, 2017.