A court in Azerbaijan sentenced an Israeli blogger to three years in prison on Thursday for illegally crossing the border into a separatist-controlled region of the country.
Alexander Lapshin was detained by police in Belarus last year and extradited to Azerbaijan, where he was slapped with charges over his trip to Nagorno-Karabakh via Armenia several years ago and for insulting Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Nagorno-Karabakh is officially part of Azerbaijan. Since a separatist war ended there in 1994, it has been under the control of forces that claim to be made up only of local ethnic Armenians but that Azerbaijan says include troops from Armenia’s military.
Lapshin’s lawyer, Eduard Chernin, told reporters after Thursday’s sentencing that his client would appeal and hopes for extradition to one of his home countries. He also holds Ukrainian and Russian citizenship.
Lapshin had sought to avoid being sent to Azerbaijan from Belarus but the Belorussian supreme court in February upheld a government decision for his extradition.
Israeli officials had sought to prevent Lapshin’s extradition, but said at the time they were not optimistic about the chances for success, as Baku officials had made it clear they had no intention of withdrawing the request.
In December, Azerbaijan issued an international arrest warrant for Lapshin on charges of “violating the state border” over several visits to Nagorno-Karabakh along the Armenian border without coordinating with the authorities in the capital, Baku.
Lapshin’s arrest in the Belorussian capital of Minsk on December 13 at the request of the Azerbaijani government coincided with a rare visit to the central Asian nation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to Azerbaijan’s Report AZ news agency, the General Prosecutor’s Office in Baku said that between April 2011 and October 2012, Lapshin “entered the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, promoted illegal regime in his own website… named the Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state. He has also called on infringement of territorial integrity of internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan.”
His wife, Ekaterina Kopylova, told the Haaretz daily in January that Israeli officials had been denied visits to him while he was in jail in Belarus and MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) warned the Foreign Ministry that Lapshin’s life could be endangered if he was extradited.
A secular state that has long had warm relations with Israel, the overwhelmingly Muslim Azerbaijan is one of Israel’s main trading partners, buying weapons systems and providing the Jewish state with the lion’s share of its oil.