Amnesty International has called on the authorities of Azerbaijan to immediately release popular blogger Aleksandr Lapshin. In a statement released by the rights group on 10 February, they claim that he faces ‘torture’ and an ‘unfair trial’, and has been refused permission to contact his wife.
Lapshin, a citizen of Israel, Russia, and Ukraine, was arrested in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on 13 December. He was wanted by Interpol upon Azerbaijan’s request accused of entering Nagorno-Karabakh — a disputed territory internationally recognised as a part of Azerbaijan, but most of which is controlled by the Armenian backed de facto Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Lapshin was also accused of ‘supporting separatism’ in public speeches and ‘public appeals against the state’.
According to the General Prosecutor’s Office in Baku, Lapshin ‘entered the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, promoted the illegal regime in his own website… [and] named Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state’. According to the BBC, Lapshin’s name was placed on an official government blacklist after his visits to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2011 and 2012.
‘The charge of ‘public appeals against the state’ has no legal basis’, Amnesty argues, ‘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. As such, Amnesty International considers that his detention is arbitrary and calls for the criminal proceedings against Aleksandr Lapshin to be terminated’, Amnesty’s statement reads.
Despite calls from Russian and Israeli authorities not to extradite him, Minsk handed Lapshin over to Azerbaijan, where he faces 13 years in jail if convicted of all charges. The blogger was sent to Baku on 8 February, provoking controversy in Armenia and Russia.
‘In extraditing Aleksandr Lapshin to Azerbaijan, where he is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment, amongst other human rights violations, the Belarusian authorities have failed to adhere to their obligations under international human rights law’, Amnesty claims.