Jerusalem on Sunday asked Belarus to not hand over to Azerbaijan a popular Ukrainian-Israeli travel blogger it arrested last week at the request of the Central Asian nation.
Azerbaijan is seeking Alexander Lapshin’s extradition to face criminal charges for travelling to disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh along the Armenian border, without coordinating with the authorities in Baku.
But on Sunday, the Israeli foreign ministry asked Belarus not to go ahead with the extradition, the ministry said.
The arrest warrant said Lapshin was wanted for “violating the state border” of Azerbaijan.
But according to reports in Israel, Lapshin published Russian-language blogs critical of Azerbaijani president Ilham Alyev.
Last Wednesday, Lapshin said that he and his wife were arrested by Belorussian authorities shortly after arriving in Minsk.
“At this moment I was arrested by the police in Minsk at the request of Azerbaijan. I’m at the Piersamajskaja station in Minsk,” he wrote in a December 13 Facebook post.
According to reports in 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 arrest came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Azerbaijan, a rare visit for an Israeli head of government.
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 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.