Popular blogger Aleksandr Lapshin was arrested in Belarus and extradited to Azerbaijan following his visits to the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Lapshin, a citizen of Israel, Russia, and Ukraine, was arrested in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on 13 December 2016. He was wanted by Interpol upon Azerbaijan’s request accused of ‘entering the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and supporting separatism in public speeches’.
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.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed territory internationally recognised as a part of Azerbaijan, which has not exercised power over most of the region since 1991. Most of the region, which has a majority ethnic Armenian population, is controlled by the de facto Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, backed by Armenia.
Since the 1988-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War, which ended with a ceasefire agreement in 1994, the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been holding peace talks. The ceasefire briefly collapsed in early april 2016 during the Four-Day War, but an agreement was reached once again on 5 April 2016.
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.
Despite this, Lapshin managed to travel to Azerbaijan, presumably because his Ukrainian passport has a different spelling of his name, which apparently allowed him to bypass the ban, the BBC reports.
Soon after his extradition to Baku, a protest rally was held in front of Belarus’s Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia. According to Caucasian Knot, approximately 50 people gathered on 8 February to protest the country’s decision to extradite Lapshin, urging the Armenian authorities to suspend diplomatic relations with Belarus. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, while Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev thanked Belarus, Russia was ‘deeply disappointed’ by the extradition.