YEREVAN, JUNE 4, ARMENPRESS. “The Azerbaijani regime is kidnapping and killing anyone it doesn’t like” – this is the title of Alexander Lapshin’s op-ed in Le Monde daily.
Alexander Lapshin is the Russian-Israeli tourism blogger who was arrested in Belarus and subsequently extradited to Azerbaijan to serve a prison sentence for visiting Artsakh “without Azerbaijani authorization”. The move sparked outrage among human rights activists and journalists worldwide.
In the article Lapshin talks about his sufferings in the Azeri jail. He served 7 months prior to being pardoned and deported to Israel.
Lapshin says he is a travel blogger who has been to more than 130 countries and that he isn’t interested in politics, he likes peace, nature, history, good food and beautiful women.
“Even in my worst nightmares I couldn’t have imagined becoming the victim of the political game of two harsh dictators”, he says, referring to Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.
He mentions how he was arrested in 2016 while in Belarus. “Police officers stormed into my hotel room, shouting: On the ground or we will shoot. You are under arrest at the demand of Azerbaijan for visiting Karabakh”. He says at the moment his laptop was switched on and he was talking to his wife, and the latter saw what was happening and contacted the Israeli and Russian embassies.
Lapshin argues that if Belarus were a lawful state, it would never deal with his arrest, extradition and sentencing. Lapshin insists that he has not breached any law of Belarus, and that the only convention on extradition between Azerbaijan and Belarus stipulates that any extradition request based on political motives must be denied.
Speaking about his transportation from Belarus to Azerbaijan on a presidential private jet and escorted by heavily armed masked SWAT agents, Lapshin says that “the tragicomedy was staged for the less-educated segments of the Azerbaijani society”.
Lapshin slams his 7 months incarceration in solitary confinement as a violation of international law.
He says that Azerbaijan accused him in the illegal trespassing into Karabakh and violating the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Lapshin says there is no other way to enter Karabakh since the border between Azerbaijan and Karabakh is closed since 1993. He was also charged for using different terms while referring to the territory – Azerbaijani Karabakh, and Artsakh.
“Azerbaijan, which is demanding this territory, is forgetting that 150,000 Armenians are living there, who use their native language. Azerbaijan is also criminalizing the use of traditional geographic location names”, he says.
“I never talked about the conflict, it is of no interest to me whatsoever. Even the kangaroo court of Baku eventually admitted that I have never made any calls for violating Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity”, he said.
Lapshin also mentioned about anti-Semitic hints during his trial proceedings. He says that all trials began at key dates for the Holocaust. He mentioned June 22, 2017 – the day when 66 years ago Nazi Germany attacked the USSR and began massacring Soviet Jews, June 30, 2017 – on this day in 1941 the massacres of Jews in Ukraine’s Lviv began. Lapshin’s parents are from this city. The third trial took place July 4, 1941 – the day when Latvia’s Jews were forcibly deported to a concentration camp and subsequently murdered.
“On September 10, 2017 – my mother’s birthday, I was cruelly attacked in my prison cell. Four masked men stormed into my cell and began beating me, choking me, and when I was already unconscious they tied a rope around my neck to hang me in the toilet. Then I was transferred to the central hospital of Baku, where doctors documented that I was close to suffering clinical death. My ribs and teeth were broken, my entire body was in bruises”, he said, adding that he had brain hemorrhage.
“Azerbaijani authorities hurried to announce that I attempted to kill myself, and that is why President Aliyev decided to “pardon me”. After three days of coma in a Baku hospital I was deported to Israel”, he said. Based on medical expertise in Tel Aviv, a lawsuit was filed against Azerbaijan in the ECHR under attempted murder charges.
In the end of the article, Lapshin reminds several important facts about Azerbaijan:
- According to Reporters Without Borders, Azerbaijan is ranked 163rd among 180 countries in terms of freedom of expression and freedom of speech.
- Azerbaijan has appeared in numerous global scandals, ranging from the Panama Papers to the Laundromat scandal, which uncovered the corruption mechanism of the country’s ruling elite
- The Azeri government doesn’t hesitate to carry out extrajudicial kidnappings, for example the abduction of reporter Afghan Mukhtarli.
- There are credible grounds to allege that the Azerbaijani government is behind the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia – who uncovered the ole of Malta and its banks in Baku’s money laundering.