Belarus handed over to Azerbaijan late on Tuesday a Russian-Israeli blogger who was arrested in Minsk in December because of his past visits to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Photographs released by Azerbaijani media showed masked and heavily armed men clad in camouflage fatigues escorting Lapshin out of an Azerbaijani plane moments after it landed in Baku.
The extradition came just hours after Belarus’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling allowing Belarusian law-enforcement authorities to send him to Azerbaijan. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko predicted such a ruling when he strongly defended Lapshin’s arrest on Friday.
The Azerbaijani authorities say Lapshin illegally entered “occupied territories of Azerbaijan” when he visited Karabakh in 2011 and 2012 without their permission. The 40-year-old, who holds Israeli, Russian and Ukrainian passports, gave detailed accounts of the trips on his Russian-language blog.
The Russian government has repeatedly made clear that it is strongly opposed to Lapshin’s extradition. Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian condemned Lapshin’s prosecution as a “disgrace” last week.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based watchdog, has also denounced his arrest.
"Belarusian authorities should immediately release Alexander Lapshin and allow him to travel freely, without fear of reprisal for his work," the CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Nina Ognianova, said in a statement issued shortly before his extradition. "Writers should never be imprisoned for expressing their views."