Israeli Consul Not Allowed to See Lapshin
LOS ANGELES—The extradition of a Russian-Israeli blogger by Belarus to Azerbaijan has angered governments across the region, with Russian, Armenian and Israeli officials slamming Minsk and Baku for acting against acceptable human rights norm.
On Tuesday, the Belarusian Supreme Court extradited the blogger, Aleksandre Lapshin, to Azerbaijan, which issued a warrant for his arrest after he visited the Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) Republic and wrote stories in his blog.
Lapshin was immediately flown to Baku, where photos show he was escorted off the plane by Azerbaijani security forces. On Wednesday, his whereabouts were unknown and the Israeli consul in Baku was not allowed to see him.
On Wednesday, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev phoned his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko to personally thank him for the extradition and pledging further strengthening of ties with Minsk.
Meanwhile, Bahar Muradova, the deputy speaker of Azerbaijan’s legislature, the Majlis, called Lapshin’s extradition “a triumph for justice,” warning “those Those not reckoning with Azerbaijan, may share Lapshin’s fate.”
Russian and Israeli diplomats are working to get permission to see Alexander Lapshin, a member Israel’s legislature, the Knesset, Kseniya Svetlova told RIA Novosti, saying that “even his current location is unknown. The Israeli Consul is not allowed to see him.”
“The Israeli Consulate is working on that. I know that the Russian Consulate is also trying to get access to him,” Svetlova said, voicing concern over the fate of the blogger.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday expressed its disappointment with Belarus over the Lapshin’s extradition.
“The Russian side expresses its deep disappointment with this decision, which runs counter to the spirit of allied relations between Russia and Belarus,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, reported the TASS news agency.
“We are determined to take all necessary steps in the future to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the Russian national with an outlook to securing his speedy return to his family,” added the statement.
A Kremlin spokesperson on Wednesday said that Russia is taking legal steps to ensure Lapshin’s safety and return.
“We continue to legally protect his interests. We are not holding negotiations, but taking all legal measures to defend his interests,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, said, according to TASS.
Russian Commissioner for Human Rights Tatyana Moskalkova said that was unacceptable to extradite Lapshin to Azerbaijan.
“According to Article 31.1 of the Russian Constitution, a citizen of the Russian Federation cannot be extradited to another state. The Russian Foreign Ministry and other departments support my stand. At the same time, I would like to remind the Russian citizens going abroad of the necessity to study and observe the legislation of foreign states,” Moskalkova added.
Leaders in Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic called Lapshin’s extradition a gross violation of human rights Belarus’ anti-Armenian policy.
“Alexander Lapshin’s persecution and his extradition to Azerbaijan amount to a gross violation of the freedom of speech and movement and fundamental human rights,” Armenia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Tigran Balayan said.
“This is yet another testament to the deep gap between dictatorship and democracy,” added Balayan.
“Definitely, the visits of political, public and culture figures, journalists and tourists to Artsakh will not stop and will even multiply,” the spokesperson said.
At Baku’s request, on December 15, police in Belarus detained Lapshin, a popular travel blogger based in Moscow, for his prior visits to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and and for his criticism of the Aliyev.
On January 20, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Belarus decided to have Lapshin extradited to Azerbaijan. After an appellate court denied an appeal, the Belarusian Supreme Court upheld that decision on Tuesday paving the way for Lapshin to be flown to Baku.
On February 3, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said at a press conference in Minsk that he considered the Court’s decision to be absolutely legitimate and urged for his extradition to Baku.
The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Foreign Ministry called Lapshin’s extradition “a flagrant violation of the fundamental rights to the freedom of movement and freedom of speech.”
“The verdict of the Supreme Court of Belarus, which has upheld the decision to hand over well-known blogger Alexander Lapshin to Azerbaijan for criminal prosecution is not only an expression of outright support for the policy of intimidating foreign citizens pursued by the Azerbaijani authorities, but also a flagrant violation of the fundamental rights to the freedom of movement and freedom of speech. Intending to hand over Alexander Lapshin to Azerbaijan at the request of Baku, based on the trumped-up and politically biased case, the Belarusian authorities demonstrate that they put political dividends above democratic norms and principles of legitimacy and justice,” the Artsakh foreign ministry said.
Armenian Revolutionary Federation Bureau member and its political director Giro Manoyan told a press conference Wednesday that Lapshin’s extradition was yet another expression of Belarus’ anti-Armenian policy.
Manoyan added that official Minsk, along with Azerbaijan, have consistently advanced anti-Armenian policies, urging Lapshin’s attorney to address the matter at the European Court of Human Rights.
“This incident may create a dangerous precedent and become an obstacle for foreign journalists,” said Manoyan.
Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian said in a Facebook post that the Lapshin case is another example of Azerbaijan’s aim to isolate Artsakh.
“Azerbaijan got Belarus to extradite Lapshin for the ‘crime’ of visiting Artsakh in order to scare others, including journalists, from ever visiting Artsakh. That is Baku’s aim. To isolate and undermine Artsakh—on the battlefield, in the media, and in the political world,” Hamparian wrote.
The Armenian National Committee of Australia called on the Australian government to condemn Lapshin’s extradition.
“The Armenian National Committee of Australia calls on the Australian government, as well as all human rights and civil liberty organizations in Australia and internationally, to join us in condemning this blatant act of the Azerbaijani dictatorship in attempting to ‘export’ its repression of freedom of speech,” ANC-AU Managing Director, Vache Kahramanian stated in a statement issued Wednesday.
“Today, freedom was compromised. It is black day for free speech and journalism around the world. The international community must not countenance this shameful act and instead, we must call for Mr. Lapshin’s immediate release,” Kahramanian added.