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Russian-Israeli blogger Alexander Lapshin in a Minsk courtroom on January 26.

MINSK -- A Belarusian court has moved the legal process forward on the extradition to Baku of Russian-Israeli blogger Aleksandr Lapshin -- who is wanted there on allegations of supporting the independence of Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The Minsk City Court on January 26 rejected Lapshin's appeal against his extradition.

Lapshin now has 10 days to appeal the Minsk City Court's ruling at Belarus's Supreme Court, his last legal recourse to avoid extradition.

Belarus's deputy state prosecutor Alyaksey Stuk signed the extradition order on January 18.

Lapshin, who lives in Moscow and writes a Russian-language travel blog, was detained in Minsk in mid-December on the basis of Baku's extradition request.

Azerbaijani prosecutors accuse Lapshin of illegally visiting Nagorno-Karabakh and calling for the recognition of the breakaway region's independence.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Minsk to "unconditionally" release Lapshin.

If the extradition proceeds and Lapshin is convicted in Baku, he could face up to eight years in prison there.

The proposal to abolish exit visas for Uzbeks is one of a number of initiatives that appear aimed at opening up the country under President Shavkat Mirziyaev (file photo).

Officials in Uzbekistan are playing down expectations that the tightly controlled Central Asian nation will soon abolish exit visas.

A draft presidential decree posted on a government website earlier in January included a clause that would scrap a long-standing requirement for Uzbeks seeking to travel abroad to receive an exit visa.

The wide-ranging draft decree On a Strategy for Uzbekistan's Further Development, which included hundreds of initiatives, would establish a new system of identification and travel documents.

The draft indicated that a decision on the matter would come in the third quarter of 2017, but included no timeframe for implementation.

Speaking to RFE/RL on January 26, several Interior Ministry officials emphasized that the draft is only a proposal and they are not sure the plan to scrap exit visas will be approved.

The exit visa system inherited from the Soviet era has been a major barrier for Uzbeks seeking to leave the country. It has become an illegal source of income for officials who expedite the process in exchange for bribes.

The proposal is one of a number of initiatives that appear aimed at opening up the country under President Shavkat Mirziyaev, who was elected after the death of longtime autocrat Islam Karimov last summer.

But Mirziyaev has already backtracked on at least one other such step, postponing a plan to introduce visa-free travel in Uzbekistan for citizens of 27 foreign countries by nearly four years just days after it was initially announced.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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