WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)— Russian-Israeli blogger Alexander Lapshin’s extradition to Baku on Feb. 7 has been widely criticized in Nagorno-Karabagh (NKR/Artsakh), Armenia, Russia, Israel, the United States, and around the world.
Artsakh Ombudsman Ruben Melikyan was quick to condemn the decision to extradite Lapshin. “Demonstrative prosecution of Lapshin is an attack [on] free speech and freedom of movement. Should be condemned in the strongest terms,” Melikyan tweeted moments after Lapshin’s extradition. “Lapshin’s case is a black-and-white issue. Oppression v. freedom. Human Rights defenders and journalists should visit NKR more as a response,” Melikyan added in a separate tweet.
The NKR Foreign Ministry released a statement shortly after the extradition calling the incident “a flagrant violation” of the fundamental rights to the freedom of movement and freedom of speech. “Intending to hand over Alexander Lapshin to Azerbaijan at the request of Baku, based on the trumped-up and politically biased case, the Belarusian authorities demonstrate that they put political benefit above democratic norms and principles of legitimacy and justice,” read a part of the statement.
In an interview with Armenian based Public Radio of Armenia, NKR President Spokesperson David Babayan stated that this should be an alarming message for the international community and Armenia. “We must rely upon ourselves and not expect any international organization to protect our interests,” said Babayan. “This is definitely a trade deal, but it’s unclear whether it’s a deal between Azerbaijan and Belarus or [Azerbaijani President Ilham] Aliyev and [Belarusian President Alexander] Lukashenko.”
On Feb. 8, several Armenian Government officials spoke out against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka and called immediate action to be taken against Belarus, reported RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The persecution of Alexander Lapshin and his extradition to Azerbaijan is a gross violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of speech and movement, which once again demonstrates the existing gap between dictatorship and democracy,” said Armenian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Tigran Balayan. Balayan said that this would cause the visits of tourists, political and public figures, and journalists to NKR to increase rather than discouraging people to do so.
Armenia’s ruling Republican Party (RPA) Parliamentary leader Vahram Baghdasaryan and Deputy Speaker of Armenia’s National Assembly Eduard Sharmazanov both accused Lukashenko of extraditing Lapshin as a part of a “deal.” Baghdasaryan called for the termination of Belarus’s membership from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) while Sharmazanov said that the case of Lapshin is a move against Russia, Armenia, and a peaceful settlement of the Artsakh conflict.
Meanwhile, dozens of Armenians under the leadership of Nikol Pashinyan’s “Yelk” alliance rallied in front of the Embassy of Belarus in Armenia on Feb. 8, to protest the extradition. During the protest, Pashinyan said that he condemns the act of violating freedom of speech by the authorities of Belarus.
Following the decision of the Supreme Court, Moscow made a statement on the extradition. “According to the available information, the Supreme Court of Belarus, having considered the case in a closed session on Feb. 7, dismissed the complaint of the citizen of Russia and Israel Alexander Lapshin against the decision of the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Belarus on his extradition to Azerbaijan. The Russian side expresses disappointment with this decision,” read a statement released by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Feb. 8. “We intend to continue taking all the necessary measures to protect the rights and legitimate interests of the Russian citizen to quickly return him to his family,” the statement said.
In addition, Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told TASS that Russia will continue to take all legal measures in order protect the interests of Lapshin.
A senior official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) strongly criticized Azerbaijani authorities on Feb. 8, for demonstratively arresting Laphin. Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on press freedom, tweeted photographs of masked and heavily armed security personnel escorting Lapshin in Baku. “Dismayed: A blogger/journalist taken to prison as a dangerous criminal. Free speech must prevail in the OSCE region,” Mijatovic wrote.
Commenting on the extradition, Member of Israeli Parliament Ksenia Svetlova told reporters on Feb. 8 that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Ministry Avigdor Liberman are responsible for Lapshin’s extradition. Svetlova said that she had been following the developments of Lapshin’s case very closely, but was not able to get him released. After requesting action from Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks ago and his failure to respond, she once again called on both the Prime Minister and Defense Minister to intervene in Lapshin’s case and help him get released.
Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian commented on the matter, saying that the Lapshin case is another example of Azerbaijan’s aim to isolate Artsakh. “Azerbaijan got Belarus to extradite Lapshin for the ‘crime’ of visiting Artsakh in order to scare others, including journalists, from ever visiting Artsakh. That is Baku’s aim. To isolate and undermine Artsakh—on the battlefield, in the media, and in the political world,” Hamparian wrote in a Facebook post moments after news of Lapshin’s extradition surfaced.
The Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANC-AU) called on the Australian government to condemn Lapshin’s extradition in a statement released on Feb. 8.
“The Armenian National Committee of Australia calls on the Australian government, as well as all human rights and civil liberty organizations in Australia and internationally, to join us in condemning this blatant act of the Azerbaijani dictatorship in attempting to ‘export’ its repression of freedom of speech,” ANC-AU Managing Director, Vache Kahramanian stated. “Today, freedom was compromised. It is black day for free speech and journalism around the world. The international community must not countenance this shameful act and instead, we must call for Mr. Lapshin’s immediate release,” Kahramanian added.
The Armenian Weekly will continue to monitor reactions to Lapshin’s extradition and will provide further updates as they become available.