Amnesty International has condemned the extradition from Belarus to Azerbaijan of a Russian-Israeli blogger who has visited Nagorno-Karabakh in the past and demanded his immediate release from Azerbaijani custody.
In a weekend statement, the London-based human rights group said Alexander Lapshin is prosecuted not only for his trips to Karabakh but also his criticism of the Azerbaijani authorities voiced on his Russian-language travel blog.
“In Azerbaijan, he is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment as well as an unfair trial,” it said. “The criminal proceedings against Aleksandr Lapshin should be terminated, and he should be released immediately.”
Lapshin’s February 7 extradition has been criticized by Russia and Armenia as well as the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on press freedom, has likewise expressed “dismay” at his demonstrative arrest by masked and heavily armed men at the Baku airport.
The Azerbaijani government has rejected the criticism. Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said on February 8 that Lapshin will stand trial on charges stemming, in part, from his 2011 and 2012 trips to Karabakh.
The 40-year-old blogger, who has Israeli, Russian and Ukrainian citizenships, also stands accused of making “public appeals against the state,” a crime punishable by up to 8 years in prison in Azerbaijan. Amnesty International emphasized this fact in its official reaction to his arrest and extradition.
“Amnesty International takes the view that the extradition and charges against Aleksandr Lapshin are a means of targeting him principally in connection with his blogs, in particular his criticism of the Azerbaijani border control system and the country’s social inequality,” said the statement. “The charge of ‘public appeals against the state’ has no legal basis, as the criticism of the Azerbaijani authorities in his blog falls entirely within the scope of his right to freedom of expression.”
“With regard to the criminal charge of illegal border crossing, the organization maintains that irregular entry should not be treated as a criminal offence,” added Amnesty.
Years before his arrest in Minsk last December, Lapshin was placed on an official Azerbaijani blacklist of several hundred non-Armenian foreigners who have visited Karabakh without Baku’s permission. Nevertheless, he was able to travel to Azerbaijan in June 2016 and post a series of detailed blog entries on his mixed impressions about the oil-rich country.
In particular, Lapshin suggested that the Azerbaijani authorities have squandered their massive oil revenues. “Despite 25 years of oil bonanza, the country is hardly different from neighboring Armenia and Georgia in terms of socioeconomic development,” he wrote.
In a June 2016 post, Lapshin also claimed that he is receiving angry comments and even death threats from Azerbaijanis accusing him of working for Armenian intelligence. He laughed off those accusations.