After a month-long detention and following heavy diplomatic pressure, the authorities in Belarus have allowed Israel’s consul in Minsk to visit Israeli blogger Alexander Lapshin. He is being detained there, pending extradition to Azerbaijan, where he is wanted in connection to criticism he posted against the regime of President Aliyev.
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Lapshin’s wife, Yekaterina Kopilova, told Haaretz that she’d met Israel’s consul after the latter’s visit to her husband and had received an update on his condition. She said that the consul had told her that Lapshin was in bad shape, and that he’s depressed and subjected to pressure by Belarus officials, who want him to sign a voluntary extradition document, which will prevent him from filing an appeal. “There is no good news,” said Kopilova.
Lapshin, who is 40, divides his time between Israel and other countries. He was arrested on December 15 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in response to a request by the Azerbaijani authorities, who have now demanded his extradition. The arrest was made a day after Prime Minister Netanyahu visited Baku. Lapshin was arrested after making several visits to the Nagorno-Karabakh region which is under Armenian occupation. The government in Baku claims sovereignty over the region. Lapshin also posted some critical comments on his Russian-language blog, directed at Azerbaijan and its president Ilham Aliyev.
The visit by Israel’s consul constitutes significance progress since over the last month the authorities in Belarus did not allow Israeli diplomats to see Lapshin and determine the conditions of his internment. A senior foreign ministry official said that Belarus is treating Lapshin as a Russian citizen, since he holds a Russian passport. They claimed that Lapshin presented himself as a Russian, not an Israeli, so that Israel has no standing in his case and no contacts regarding him would be conducted.
In recent days Israel applied increased pressure on Belarus to allow the consul to visit Lapshin. A senior foreign ministry official said that Israel had also turned to Russia, asking that the Russian consul in Minsk also visit Lapshin, who is a Russian citizen. The Russians have agreed and a visit is expected to take place Thursday.
Since his arrest, the foreign ministry in Israel has been in contact with Azerbaijan’s government. Senior officials in the Azeri foreign ministry told Israeli diplomats in Baku that their government would not back down from its extradition request. The foreign ministry in Jerusalem is worried that the extradition might take place within days.
In relation to this incident, the foreign ministry has issued a warning to Israeli travelers not to enter the Nagorno-Karabakh region without a permit from the Azeri government. The warning was placed on the ministry’s website following Lapshin’s arrest. “During the 1990s Armenia took control of this region, along with seven others” says the travel warning. “Azerbaijan sees these areas as occupied territory. According to Azeri law, entering these areas without the permission of the Azeri government is a violation of the law. Anyone breaking the law will be put on a blacklist, which includes people liable to be arrested and put on trial upon arrival in Azerbaijan. Moreover, these people may be arrested in third countries and extradited to Azerbaijan.”