SYDNEY: The Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANC-AU) has called on the Australian government to condemn the extradition of Alexander Lapshin by Belarus to Azerbaijan, resulting in the Israeli-Russian blogger's detainment on arrival to Baku.
Already notorious for imprisoning more journalists than most nations (according to Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch), Azerbaijan’s petro-dictator, Ilham Aliyev has achieved the extradition of Lapshin from Belarus to Azerbaijan for visiting the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and for writing several critical posts against Azerbaijan and its president and for .
Lapshin was arrested by Belarussian authorities (also infamous for imprisoning critical journalists and academics) at the request of the Azerbaijani government. On 20 January 2017 the General Prosecutor’s Office of Belarus decided to have Lapshin extradited to Azerbaijan, which was be implemented on 7 February 2017 after Lapshin's unsuccessful appeal. Lapshin was photographed arriving in Baku Azerbaijan flanked by armed Azerbaijani officers.
ANC-AU Managing Director, Vache Kahramanian stated: “The Armenian National Committee of Australia calls on the Australian government, as well as all human rights and civil liberty organisations 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.”
Kahramanian added: “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.”
Lapshin has visited Nagorno-Karabakh on a number of occasions, writing blogs supportive of the native Armenian inhabitants’ independence and self-determination. In 2016, he had also visited Baku and subsequently wrote blogs criticising the poverty in certain areas of the oil-rich capital, Baku as well as the dictatorial rule of Aliyev.
Both Israeli and Russian diplomatic missions had made representations calling for Lapshin’s release and opposing the extradition.
On 13 January 2017, the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Belarussian authorities to unconditionally release Lapshin. “Aleksander Lasphin should not be jailed for expressing his opinions or travelling to a disputed region,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Co-ordinator, Nina Ognianova stated.
On 27 January 2017, the Armenian Youth Federation of Australia (AYF-AU) and the Armenian Students Association led a Silent Protest at the Embassy of Belarus in Canberra, calling for the release of Lapshin. The #FreeLapshin protests have since taken place across Europe, the United States and South America.
Azerbaijan is ranked 160th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and President Aliyev listed as one of the top “Predators of Press Freedom” who has eliminated almost all pluralism in his country. Azerbaijan has declared approximately 180 journalists persona non grata for visiting the self-declared independent Republic of Karabakh (Artsakh).