TBILISI (Reuters) - A Georgian government minister quit a television interview mid broadcast after several Georgian journalists wore black, face-covering hoods in protest at the detention of a colleague in neighboring Azerbaijan.
Tuesday’s protest was done to highlight the plight of Azeri investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who was, according to his lawyers, abducted in Georgia and taken to Azerbaijan, where he has been detained for three months by a court.
“We start our show with a protest dedicated to the ‘evaporation’ of our colleague - an Azeri journalist - from the center of Tbilisi and his ‘reappearance’ in a Baku prison,” Georgie Gabunia, host of the political talk show “Archevani” (Choice) on popular opposition channel Rustavi-2, told viewers.
“How was such a ‘teleportation’ possible without any kind of registration at the border?”
The on-air protest prompted Georgia’s deputy interior minister, Shalva Khutsishvili, to walk out of an interview he was giving by video link. “Looks like you are leading this (interview) in a wrong direction. I am leaving,” he said.
One of Mukhtarli’s lawyers told Reuters the journalist’s arrest was politically motivated - a method of punishing him for publishing articles critical of the Azeri government.
Lawyers for the journalist alleged that he had been subject to violence during his abduction and that his captors stuffed 10,000 euros ($11,250) into his pockets before he was taken across the border.
Azeri authorities accuse Mukhtarli of smuggling, illegal border crossing and violence against police authority.
Georgia’s Interior Ministry said an investigation had been launched into the Mukhtarli’s alleged “unlawful imprisonment”.
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Writing by Mark Hanrahan; editing by Mark Heinrich