Israeli Jailed for Criticizing Azerbaijan

A view of the forested mountains of Nagorno-Karabakh. (Sonashen)

An Israeli travel writer has been jailed for publishing statements critical of the Azerbaijani government and its president, Ilham Aliyev, Haaretz reported Sunday.

Alexander Lapshin, a Russian-born Israeli citizen from Haifa, was arrested last Wednesday in Belarus at the request of the Azerbaijani government over his visits to the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Baku is seeking his extradition, and his family fears that if sent to Azerbaijan, his life will be in danger.

Friends of Lapshin say he could be charged with violating two clauses of Azerbaijan’s criminal law: Clause 281.2, which forbids the public call or support for harming the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan; and clause 318.2, which forbids crossing Azerbaijan’s political border without the required papers, or at any location other than the border crossing.

The punishment for violating the first clause ranges from five to eight years, while transgressing the second can be up to five years in prison.

Although it’s controlled by Armenia, the Baku government claims sovereignty of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Azeri government claims that in April 2011 and October 2012, Lapshin made unauthorized visits to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Lapshin criticized the poverty in certain parts of the capital, Baku; the dictatorial rule of President Aliyev; and the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.

At the end of last week, the Prosecutor General’s Office in Baku said that in addition to Lapshin’s illegal visits to Nagorno-Karabakh, he also violated the law by expressing support for the local government there, which operates under the aegis of Armenia.

Israeli MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Camp) is seeking Lapshin’s release. Svetlova said she turned to the Foreign Ministry in Yerushalayim and asked them to intervene on his behalf. At her request, the Israeli Embassy in Minsk met with Lapshin’s wife, but no progress has been reported with the authorities there.

Senior Foreign Ministry officials told Haaretz that contacts had already begun with the Azeri government. “We are asking the Azeris to forget about it, but it’s not easy,” a Foreign Ministry official said.

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