STRASBOURG (RFE/RL) — Armenia’s human rights ombudsman on Monday strongly condemned authorities in Belarus for arresting an Israeli travel blogger who is facing extradition to Azerbaijan because of his visits to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Arman Tatoyan raised the case of Alexander Lapshin with a senior Council of Europe official during a trip to Strasbourg.
Lapshin, who also holds Russian and Ukrainian passports, travelled to Karabakh in 2011 and 2012 and gave detailed accounts of the trips on his Russian-language blog.
The Azerbaijani authorities say that by visiting “occupied territories of Azerbaijan” without their permission Lapshin violated the country’s territorial integrity. They also accuse him of promoting Karabakh as an independent state.
Israel asked Belarus not to hand over the 40-year-old to Baku shortly after he was detained in Minsk on December 15. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov similarly expressed concern over his arrest earlier this month. And the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), a New York-based watchdog, demanded the blogger’s “unconditional” release in a January 13 statement.
Nevertheless, Belarus’s leadership appears to remain adamant in handing over Lapshin to Azerbaijan. A senior Belarusian prosecutor reportedly approved his extradition on January 17.
Tatoyan discussed the matter with Philippe Boillat, head of the Council of Europe’s Directorate General on Human Rights and Rule of Law.
A statement by the ombudsman’s office said: “Arman Tatoyan pointed out that the decision to extradite [Lapshin] is politically motivated, directly jeopardizes freedom of speech and is an attempt to set an inadmissible precedent. It blatantly violates the European system of human rights protection.”
The Armenian government has until now avoided publicly criticizing the authorities in Minsk over Lapshin’s case. The Foreign Ministry in Yerevan has said only that it is “dealing with this issue.”
Both Armenia and Belarus are members of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
But more importantly, Belarus’s authoritarian President Aleksandr Lukashenko maintains a warm rapport with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev. Lapshin was arrested about two weeks after Lukashenko’s official visit to Baku during which he received Azerbaijan’s highest state award.
Aliyev’s government has officially banned over 600 non-Armenian foreigners from visiting Azerbaijan because of their publicized trips to Karabakh. The blacklist includes 180 journalists.