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Azerbaijan's Aliyev Thanks Belarus For Extraditing Russian Blogger


Russian-Israeli blogger Aleksandr Lapshin is collected by Azerbaijani security forces upon his arrival in Baku on February 7.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has thanked his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, for the extradition of a Russian blogger wanted in Azerbaijan.

Aliyev called the Belarusian leader on February 8 to express his gratitude for Minsk's "fair stance" in sending Aleksandr Lapshin to Baku the previous day, according to a statement on the Azerbaijani presidential website.

Russia said it was "deeply disappointed" about the extradition of Lapshin, who also has Israeli citizenship.

Lapshin faces charges in Baku of supporting the independence of Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on February 8 that Lapshin's extradition "does not correspond to the spirit of friendly ties between allies -- Russia and Belarus."

The 40-year-old Lapshin is a resident of Moscow and writes a Russian-language blog called Life Adventures.

He is known more for observations about his travels than his political views.

But he has published remarks online that were critical of Azerbaijan's government and state-controlled media.

Azerbaijani prosecutors accuse him of illegally visiting Nagorno-Karabakh in 2011 and 2012 and calling for the recognition of the region's independence in two statements posted online.

Nagorno-Karabakh, populated mainly by ethnic Armenians, declared independence from Azerbaijan amid a 1988-94 war that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a conflict over the breakaway region for years.

Diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict have brought little progress, and there have been sporadic flare-ups of fighting.

Internationally, Nagorno-Karabakh is still recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Lapshin was flown from Minsk to Baku on February 7 immediately after Belarus's Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling in support of Baku's extradition request.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has strongly defended Lapshin's mid-December arrest by authorities in Minsk.

On February 3, Lukashenka said Lapshin "was detained in accordance with an Interpol decision, and according to the law, we have to pass him to Azerbaijan."

Last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was "opposed to the criminalization of visits by journalists or other people" to Nagorno-Karabakh or other territories.

Lavrov also criticized "the extradition to a third country of Russians detained abroad."

Armenia's government has also condemned Lapshin's extradition to Baku.

Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan said on February 8 that Lapshin faced "persecution" and that his extradition by Belarus was "a gross violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of speech and movement."

He said the case "demonstrates the existing gap between dictatorship and democracy.'

Balayan expressed confidence that the precedent sent by Belarusian authorities will not discourage other foreigners from visiting Nagorno-Karabakh without Baku's permission.

"It is beyond doubt that the flow of political and public figures, artists, journalists, and tourists" will not stop 'but will multiply," he said.

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry rejected the criticism, saying the case was being politicized and "should be considered exclusively in the legal field."

Meanwhile, Israel's Foreign Ministry said the government was closely following developments regarding Lapshin, who also has Israeli citizenship.

If Lapshin is convicted by a court in Azerbaijan, he could face up to eight years in prison there.

With reporting by BBC, TASS, and Interfax
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