BAKU—The Russian-Israeli blogger Alexander Lapshin was released from an Azerbaijani prison on Tuesday after being a granted a pardon from that country’s president, Ilham Aliyev.
Lapshin, who was serving a three-year jail sentence for his writings about Artsakh, was convicted on July 20, but his sentence was abruptly commuted when Aliyev pardoned him. The pardon happened on the day that Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov left for Israel on an official visit.
Lapshin’s attorney, Eduard Chernin, said that his client will leave Azerbaijan for Israel in the next few days, after his mother arrives in Baku.
“His [Lapshin’s] mother, Bella Lapshina, wants to come here [Baku], therefore we must wait. Lapshin will be sent to Israel in 1-2 days,” Chernin said.
Ahead of the pardon, Baku authorities reported that Lapshin had attempted suicide on Sunday as a protest for the delay in his extradition to Israel.
Chernin said that Lapshin was in good health after the suicide attempt.
The Artsakh Human Rights Defender, or ombudsman, Ruben Melikyan, said that Azerbaijan has failed in its plan to limit international coverage and activity in Artsakh since the arrest of Russian-Israeli blogger Alexander Lapshin.
Speaking to the Stepanakert-based news outlet Artsakhpress, Melikyan said he was happy that a wrongfully convicted and imprisoned man will now return home.
“Was the price of [Lapshin’s] freedom just a matter of changing positions and apologizing, or something else? It’s difficult to say. I believe it is the latter,” Melikyan said. “One thing is clear in Lapshin’s case: Azerbaijan had a goal of limiting foreign visits to Artsakh in order to prevent international coverage of the problems itscitizens face. They have failed in this regard. Moreover, both our [Armenian] Diaspora and the principled section of the international human rights community have gained new impetus for further activity in Artsakh.”
An Azerbaijani court ruled on July 20 that Lapshin illegally crossed Azerbaijan’s international borders in Artsakh through Armenia in 2011 and 2012. While he was no charged with making “public appeals against the state,” a crime punishable by up to eight years in prison in Azerbaijan, he was sentenced to three years in prison for his writings on Artsakh in his Russian language blog.
Lapshin pled not guilty to charges and said that he understood how his writings may have disturbed people in Azerbaijan.
In December, Lapshin was arrested in Minsk, the Belarus capital, and was subsequently extradited in February to Baku to face trial, despite an international outcry that included protests from Armenia and Russia, as well as international watch dog organizations such as Amnesty International and Committee to Protect Journalists.