BAKU, AZERBAIJAN - An independent Azerbaijani journalist has been abducted from Georgia, where he had been living, and forcibly taken to Azerbaijan, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
A court in this former Soviet republic was due to hold a hearing later on Wednesday to arrest Afgan Mukhtarli, who is facing charges of smuggling and crossing the border illegally.
Mukhtarli, who is also a civil rights activist, had been living in neighboring Georgia for two years. His lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, told The Associated Press the journalist was abducted outside his home Monday evening, beaten up and taken to the land border between Azerbaijan and Georgia. Sadigov claimed that the journalist's captors planted 10,000 euros ($11,180) on him, which led to the charges.
Eldar Sultanov, spokesman for the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General's Office, said the journalist was detained late on Monday "after illegally crossing the Azerbaijani border" with a large sum of money.
Mukhtarli left Azerbaijan in 2015, around the time when several Azerbaijani journalists working for foreign or local independent media faced charges of tax evasion.
Mukhtarli's wife, Leila Mustafayeva, told the AP she was waiting for her husband at home Monday evening but he never showed up. Mustafayeva said her husband had been investigating Georgian business ties of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's family.
"Naturally, this created resentment in the presidential family," she said, insisting that her husband's disappearance is connected to his investigation.
Several dozen journalists rallied in the capital, Tbilisi, demanding that Georgian authorities explain how they allowed the reported abduction to happen.
Giorgi Gogia, Human Rights Watch director of South Caucasus, in a statement described Mukhtarli's disappearance as another step in the Azerbaijani government's "relentless crackdown on critics."