BAKU (RFE/RL) — A court in Azerbaijan on Thursday sentenced Alexander Lapshin, a Russian-Israeli blogger controversially arrested last December, to three years in prison on a charge stemming from his visits to Nagorno-Karabakh.
The court ruled that Lapshin illegally crossed Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders when he travelled to Karabakh via Armenia in 2011 and 2012.But it also cleared him of making “public appeals against the state,” a crime punishable by up to eight years in prison in Azerbaijan.
Lapshin, who has Israeli, Russian and Ukrainian citizenships, gave detailed accounts of those trips on his Russian-language travel blog. The 40-year-old was detained in Belarus’s capital Minsk on an Azerbaijani arrest warrant. The Belarusian authorities extradited him to Azerbaijan in February, prompting strong criticism from Armenia and Russia.
The extradition was also condemned by international watchdogs such as Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Amnesty demanded the blogger’s immediate release, saying that he is “at risk of torture and other ill-treatment as well as an unfair trial.” The Azerbaijani government rejected the criticism.
Lapshin pleaded not guilty to the accusations levelled against him and denied forging “criminal links with Armenian authorities” in his final statement at his trial on Wednesday.At the same time, he said he now understands that his trips to Karabakh offended many Azerbaijanis.
According to the TASS news agency, Lapshin’s lawyer said he is satisfied with the verdict and hopes that his client will soon be handed over to Russia, Israel or Ukraine.
Years before his arrest, Lapshin was placed on an official Azerbaijani blacklist of several hundred non-Armenian foreigners who have visited Karabakh without Baku’s permission. Nevertheless, he was able to travel to Azerbaijan in June 2016 and post a series of detailed blog entries on his mixed impressions about the oil-rich country.
In particular, Lapshin suggested that the Azerbaijani authorities have squandered their massive oil revenues. “Despite 25 years of oil bonanza, the country is hardly different from neighboring Armenia and Georgia in terms of socioeconomic development,” he wrote.
In a June 2016 post, Lapshin also claimed that he is receiving angry comments and even death threats from Azerbaijanis accusing him of working for Armenian intelligence. He laughed off those accusations.