BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s abrupt pardon of Russian-Israeli blogger Alexander Lapshin, who was serving a three year sentence in a Baku prison for visiting Artsakh, was a surprise to those who have been following this case when Lapshin was unceremoniously extradited to Azerbaijan by Belarus authorities late last year.
Lapshin’s pardon also was peppered with news that he attempted suicide at the prison a day before Aliyev’s announcement. This was followed up with reports that he was under medical care following the attempt.
It seems, however, that a day after the reported suicide attempt Lapshin was well enough to pen a letter praising Aliyev, Azerbaijan and offering a rare mea culpa for someone who had unequivocally admonished the Aliyev regime for its abysmal human rights record.
However, it wasn’t his criticism of the Baku regime that landed him in jail, as those charges were dropped. It was his visits to Artsakh and his generally positive coverage of that country in his travel blog that compelled the court to sentence him to three years in jail.
In a letter published by the Azerbaijani press, on September 11, the day of Aliyev’s pardon, Lapshin penned a letter, in which he expresses his regret “for the things I have done. I did not have knowledge of the issues happening in the region and neighborhood regions during my visit to the Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Below is Lapshin’s letter as was reported by the Baku-based news.az.
I was sentenced to 3 years in prison by the Baku Court of Grave Crimes on 20 July, 2017. I was charged under the Article 318.2 (illegal crossing border of the Republic of Azerbaijan) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The charge against me under Article 281.2 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code (public appeals against the state) was dropped due to a lack of evidence.
“Today I learnt that the decree was signed to pardon me. I am very grateful to you. I guess I have never waited for anything like this in my entire life!
“I regret for the things I have done. I did not have knowledge of the issues happening in the region and neighborhood regions during my visit to the Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Now, I acquired indisputable facts that Karabakh is a land of Azerbaijan and I realized that sooner or later Karabakh will be Azerbaijan. Hope, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will be solved within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
“I want to express one more time my deep regret regarding the irresponsible behaviors of mine. I am very grateful for your kind understanding and compassion.
“I wish to you, your family and Azerbaijani people health, longevity and prosperity. I do believe that Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani territories will be liberated.
The fact that Lapshin’s letter stinks of Azerbaijan’s talking point on the Karabakh conflict down to the detail of his alleged wish for liberation of “Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani territories,” signals that he was forced to sign this letter as a condition for his release.
Time will tell what Lapshin will do following his stint in an Azerbaijani prison, which was widely criticized by the Armenia, Russia and international watchdog groups such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders. But one hopes that Lapshin will continue his chronicles and will one day visit Artsakh again for the sake of freedom of speech and the press.
He may have had to curtsey to King Aliyev to get the hell outta dodge, but his future actions will determine whether the outcry over quashing fundamental freedoms yielded a beneficial outcome or was in vain.