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Russian-Israeli blogger Aleksandr Lapshin (file photo)

MINSK -- Belarusian prosecutors have ruled to extradite Russian-Israeli blogger Aleksandr Lapshin to Azerbaijan, where he is accused of separatism.

A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, Pyotar Kisyalyou, announced the ruling to RFE/RL on January 20.

He did not provide any further details.

But other sources at the Prosecutor-General's Office said deputy state prosecutor Alyaksey Stuk had signed the extradition order on January 17.

Lapshin, who lives in Moscow and writes a Russian-language travel blog, was detained in Minsk in mid-December on an extradition request from Azerbaijan.

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

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

If extradited, tried, and convicted, he faces up to eight years in prison.

Afghan soldiers carry the coffin of Zabihullah Tamanna, an Afghan journalist who was killed while embedded with local troops last year

Last year was the deadliest year on record for Afghan media, with 13 journalists killed, the Afghanistan Journalist Safety Committee said in a report on January 18.

The press group documented at least 101 incidents of killings, assault, intimidation, abuse, and other physical attacks, a 38 percent increase over numbers recorded in 2015.

Although the Taliban was blamed for 10 of the 13 deaths, half of the overall increase in violence toward journalists was attributed to the Afghan government.

"This is an ugly, worrying, and serious trend, and if certain actions are not taken, 2017 could be worse," said committee head Najib Sharifi.

A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said acts of intimidation were by individuals, not by the government, and the president is committed to a free press.

"There are no journalists in jail in the whole country and the attorney general's office has prosecuted those government officials who have threatened or acted against journalists," he said.

The Taliban's "drastic increase" in attacks on journalists started in late 2015 with the issuance of death threats against journalists perceived as being too critical, the report said.

That was followed by a deadly attack on Tolo, one of Afghanistan's largest television stations.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa

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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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