New York, February 7, 2017--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned today's decision by the Supreme Court of Belarus to extradite Russian-Israeli blogger Aleksandr Lapshin to Azerbaijan to stand trial for traveling to the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and for criticizing Azerbaijani policies.
Azerbaijan has cracked down in recent months on bloggers and independent journalists, according to CPJ research.
"Belarusian authorities should immediately release Aleksandr Lapshin and allow him to travel freely, without fear of reprisal for his work," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Writers should never be imprisoned for expressing their views."
Police detained Lapshin, who writes a popular travel blog, soon after he arrived in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on December 15, 2016, acting at the request of the Azerbaijani government, which has close diplomatic relations with the government of Belarus. The blogger faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison on charges of illegally crossing Azerbaijan's state borders during his April 2011, October 2012, and June 2016 visits to Nagorno-Karabakh, and for making "anti-state calls to the public" and criticizing Azerbaijani policies, according to regional press reports.
Azerbaijan and Armenia both claim Nagorno-Karabakh as their territory. The area is currently administered by Armenia.