TBILISI, June 7 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 neighbouring 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
centre 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".
($1 = 0.8888 euros)
(Writing by Mark Hanrahan; editing by Mark Heinrich)