The trial of blogger Aleksandr Lapshin for visiting Nagorno-Karabakh has kicked off in Baku. Lapshin, a citizen of Russia, Ukraine, and Israel, was detained in Belarus on Azerbaijan’s request charged with ‘illegally crossing the border of Azerbaijan’ and ‘supporting separatism in public speeches’; he faces 8 years in prison if convicted.
According to the Caucasian Knot, the Prosecutor’s Office called two witness against Lapshin at a court hearing on 3 July. Eyyub Abdulazimov and Fakhraddin Safarov, internally displaced people from Shusha (Shushi), a city in Nagorno-Karabakh, claimed they were insulted by Lapshin’s visit to Nagorno-Karabakh and his ‘attempt to present it as an independent Armenian state’.
‘The witnesses said that Shusha was the land of their ancestors, while Aleksandr Lapshin described it as “Armenian land” ’, Caucasian Knot was told by an anonymous source who was at the trial.
According to Caucasian Knot, journalists from a number of outlets, including their own, were barred from entering the courtroom, officially because of a ‘shortage of seats in the courtroom’.
However, Caucasian Knot quoted an anonymous source as saying that almost a third of the seats were left empty.
Lapshin was arrested in Minsk, Belarus on 13 December 2016, and extradited to Azerbaijan on 8 February for his visits to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2011–2012.
Lapshin, as the prosecution claims, labelled Nagorno-Karabakh an ‘independent state’ in his publications, and used ‘separatist terminology’ such as Artsakh and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to describe it.
[For more on Lapshin’s detention and extradition, read on OC Media: Blogger arrested in Belarus and extradited to Azerbaijan for visiting Nagorno-Karabakh]
In a statement on 10 February, international rights group Amnesty International called on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately release the blogger, claiming that he faces torture and an unfair trial in the country.
Under Azerbaijani law, it is illegal to cross into the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia, and it is impossible to do so from the Azerbaijani side.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.