The Belarus Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a government decision to extradite a popular Israeli travel blogger to Azerbaijan, where he will face criminal prosecution for insulting the leader of the Central Asian nation and making unauthorized visits to its disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Alexander Lapshin, 40, could be handed over to Baku authorities as early as Tuesday, reports in local news sites said.
Lapshin, who holds Russian, Israeli, and Ukrainian citizenship, appealed the Belarusian Prosecutor General’s Office decision to extradite him to Baku at a lower court last month.
The Minsk City Court rejected his January 26 appeal seeking to overturn the extradition order, prompting Lapshin to turn to the Supreme Court.
No reason was given for either court’s rulings, and both hearings were held behind closed doors.
A last-minute application for political asylum filed to the Minsk City Court by Lapshin’s lawyer was likely to be rejected as well, Army Radio reported.
Israeli officials have sought to prevent Lapshin’s extradition, but are reportedly not optimistic at the chances of success as Baku officials have made it clear the government has “no intention” of withdrawing the request.
The Foreign Ministry’s spokesman confirmed to The Times of Israel on Tuesday that Jerusalem officials were aware of the developments in Lapshin’s case.
“We are following the developments closely, and are in contact with all relevant parties through diplomatic and consular channels,” Emmanuel Nahshon said.
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.
Reports in Hebrew-language media said Lapshin had also published Russian-language blogs critical of Azerbaijani President Ilham Alyev.
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 last month that Israeli officials have been denied visits to him in jail. And MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) has warned the Foreign Ministry that Lapshin’s life could be endangered if he is extradited.
Lapshin’s arrest in Minsk on December 13 at the request of the Azerbaijani government coincided with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rare visit to central Asian nation.
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.
During his visit, Netanyahu ahiled cooperation with Baku as a positive example of Muslim-Jewish coexistence.
Earlier this year, Armenian forces claimed Baku deployed Israeli-made kamikaze drones in a battle against them in the ongoing fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.