The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based watchdog, has again called for the immediate release of Russian-Israeli blogger Aleksandr Lapshin, who has been imprisoned in Azerbaijan for his visits to Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Aleksandr Lapshin should not be in jail for traveling to a disputed region,” the CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Nina Ognianova, said after an Azerbaijani court sentenced Lapshin to three years in prison on Thursday.
“We call on authorities in Baku not to contest the journalist's appeal and to release him unconditionally,” a CPJ statement quoted her as saying.
The court ruled that Lapshin illegally crossed Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders when he travelled to Karabakh via Armenia in 2011 and 2012. But it cleared him of making “public appeals against the state,” a crime punishable by up to eight years in prison in Azerbaijan.
The 40-year-old blogger, who has Israeli, Russian and Ukrainian citizenships, was detained in Belarus’s capital Minsk on an Azerbaijani arrest warrant last December. The Belarusian authorities extradited him to Azerbaijan in February, prompting strong criticism from Armenia and Russia.
The CPJ demanded Lapshin’s release shortly before the extradition. “Writers should never be imprisoned for expressing their views,” it said at the time.
Azerbaijan has repeatedly rejected the international criticism.
Meanwhile, the Russian Justice Ministry said on Friday that it is ready to seek Lapshin’s extradition to Russia if he expresses such a desire. Russia’s human rights ombudsperson, Tatyana Moskalkova, said for her part that talks on the blogger’s handover to Moscow have already begun. She did not elaborate.