A senior official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized authorities in Azerbaijan on Wednesday for demonstratively arresting a Russian-Israeli blogger after he was extradited by Belarus.
Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on press freedom, posted on her Twitter page photographs of masked and heavily armed security personnel escorting Alexander Lapshin out of an Azerbaijani plane at Baku airport.
“Dismayed: A blogger/journalist taken to prison as a dangerous criminal,” Mijatovic wrote. “Free speech must prevail in the OSCE region!”
Lapshin was extradited late on Tuesday about two months after being detained in Minsk on an Azerbaijani arrest warrant related to his past visits to Nagorno-Karabakh. The Belarusian authorities handed him over to Baku despite criticism of his arrest voiced by Russia, Armenia as well as the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov rejected the criticism. “I am surprised and outraged by the excessive politicization of this issue,” he told the RIA Novosti news agency. “They keep calling him a blogger. If he was an engineer would they not show an interest in him?”
Mammadyarov made clear that Lapshin will stand trial on charges stemming from his 2011 and 2012 trips to Karabakh. “The final decision will be made by the court,” he said.
For its part, Belarus’s Office of the Prosecutor-General issued a statement insisting that Lapshin’s arrest and subsequent extradition was legal.