Israeli blogger Alexander Lapshin was extradited from Belarus to Azerbaijan on Tuesday, a Foreign Ministry source confirmed, two months after being arrested for criticizing Azerbaijan and its president. The source added that Lapshin was transferred to a local prison after landing in Baku.
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Earlier Tuesday, the supreme court of Belarus has denied an appeal filed by Lapshin, who had been imprisoned in that country since December and had been seeking to head off his extradition to Azerbaijan. Following the failure of the appeal, Lapshin had been expected to be extradited as early as Tuesday. His extradition was momentarily held up, however, following the filing of a request by his lawyer for political asylum in Belarus.
Lapshin, 40, holds dual Israel and Russian citizenship and divides his time between Israel and several other countries. He was arrested on December 15 in Minsk, the Belarus capital, at the request of the Azerbaijan authorities, who demanded his extradition. The arrest occurred one day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Baku, Azerbaijan.
Lapshin was arrested because of trips he had made in the past to the Armenian-controlled province of Nagorno-Karabakh, over which the Baku government claims sovereignty, and for posting criticism on his blog, in Russian, against Azerbaijan and its president, Ilham Aliyev.
In recent weeks, Israeli and Russian officials, working in concert, have sought to prevent Lapshin's extradition. Diplomats from both countries contacted members of the Belarus and Azerbaijan governments, but their efforts proved fruitless. The Azeris have remained firm in their determination to demand Lapshin’s extradition and the Belarus authorities have cooperated in this process.
On Friday, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said at a press conference in Minsk that the Israeli blogger was due to be extradited to Azerbaijan. However, he also hinted that, if it so wished, Israel could possibly reach a deal with Azerbaijan for his release.
“I’ve instructed that he be handed over in accordance with the law,” Lukashenko said. “The Russians want him, the Israelis want him. According to the decision [by the court], we should transfer him to Azerbaijan. We could release him, but that won’t be right.”
“If Israel would so desire, not a hair will fall from the man’s head,” he added, implying that there was still be chance for Israel to reach a deal for Lapshin’s release. “Most of the iceberg, which you can’t see, is underwater,” Lukashenko said, without elaborating.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said: “We are closely following the developments in Mr. Lapshin’s case, and are in contact with the relevant parties through diplomatic and consular channels.”