The Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), a New York-based international watchdog, demanded on Friday that authorities in Belarus “unconditionally” release an Israeli travel blogger who is facing extradition to Azerbaijan because of his visits to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Alexander Lapshin, who also holds Russian and Ukrainian passports, travelled to Karabakh in 2011 and 2012 and gave detailed accounts of the trips on his Russian-language blog.
The Azerbaijani authorities say that by visiting “occupied territories of Azerbaijan” without their permission Lapshin violated the country’s territorial integrity. They also accuse him of promoting Karabakh as an independent state.
Israel asked Belarus not to hand over the 40-year-old to Baku shortly after he was detained in Minsk on December 15. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said later in December that it is also “dealing with this issue.”
“Aleksandr Lapshin should not be jailed for expressing his opinions or traveling to a disputed region,” Nina Ognianova, the CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program coordinator, said in a statement. “We call on Belarusian authorities to release the travel blogger without condition and allow him to return home.”
The authorities in Minsk have not yet said whether they will hand over Lapshin to Azerbaijan. Israel’s “Haaretz” daily cited an Israeli diplomat as saying after visiting the blogger on Thursday that he is facing pressure from Belarussian officials to agree to voluntary extradition.
Belarus’s authoritarian President Aleksandr Lukashenko maintains a warm rapport with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev. Lapshin was arrested about two weeks after Lukashenko’s official visit to Baku during which he received Azerbaijan’s highest state award, the Order of Heydar Aliyev.
Aliyev’s government has officially banned over 600 non-Armenian foreigners from visiting Azerbaijan because of their publicized trips to Karabakh. According to the CPJ statement, 180 of them are journalists. The blacklist also includes dignitaries such as French Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux and Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballe.