Russian-Israeli Blogger Jailed and Extradited to Azerbaijan for Criticizing the Azeri Regime

Alexander Lapshin

Alexander Lapshin, a 40-year-old Russian-Israeli travel blogger, was arrested after writing critical posts against the Azeri regime. The popular blogger was extradited to Azerbaijan from Belarus on February 7, 2017, under the suspicion of crossing into Belarus illegally and visiting Nagorno-Karabagh, a disputed region between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Lapshin was arrested on December 15, 2016, in Minsk, Belarus. An international extradition warrant to Azerbaijan was issued, backed by the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Following the extradition, Lapshin is being held in Baku Detention Facility No.1 of the Justice Ministry’s Penitentiary Service,

Lapshin writes the travel blog “Life Adventures“, where he describes his many travels in unusual sites around the world. The disputed Nagorno-Karabagh region is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but populated mainly by ethnic Armenians. The ethnic tension has caused many conflicts and hostilities over the years. Lapshin described in his blog several visits to the disputed region, and according to Azeri authorities he had called for the region’s independence. Such a statement contradicts the Azeri legal prohibition on “calling for changes to the territorial integrity” of the country. Lapshin had been banned from visiting Azerbaijan and was later accused of entering the territory illegally.

Lapshin, who holds Russian, Israeli and Ukrainian citizenships, appealed the extradition decision in Minsk City Court. However, his appeal was denied. Israeli and Russian efforts to secure the blogger’s release have also failed. Lapshin is facing charges of “violating the state border” and if convicted, may serve up to 13 years in prison.

The BBC quotes one of Lapshin’s latest posts from April 2016:

“Reading their media gives the impression that the Azerbaijani authorities and journalists believe their own people to be morons… The Azerbaijani army is incapable of storming Karabakh for both strategic and political reasons. If they could do it – they would have done so a long time ago, as 23 years is enough time”

According to the Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net report for the year 2016, Azerbaijan is marked as ‘Partly Free’. Social Media platforms are not being blocked, but political and social content is being censored and bloggers are being arrested for expressing their opinions online. The press freedom in the state is marked as ‘Not Free’.

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