Azerbaijan’s president pardoned on Monday an Israeli-Russian blogger who was jailed for traveling to a separatist-controlled region of the former Soviet republic.
Alexander Lapshin, who holds Russian, Ukrainian and Israeli citizenship, was detained in Belarus last year and extradited to Azerbaijan, where he was charged for his trip to Nagorno-Karabakh via Armenia several years ago. In July, he was sentenced to three years in prison.
The office of President Ilham Aliyev said that he had pardoned Lapshin, who had petitioned to be extradited to Israel.
Since a separatist war there ended in 1994, Nagorno-Karabakh has been under the control of forces that claim to be local ethnic Armenians, but that Azerbaijan alleges include troops from Armenia.
Zionist Union Knesset member Ksenia Svetlova wrote on her Facebook page that Lapshin will be set free in the coming days.
“About an hour ago I was moved to hear that the president of Azerbejan Ilham Aliyev signed a pardon for Alexander Lapshin, an Israeli blogger who was sentenced to three years in prison because he entered the Nagorno-Karabakh strip,” wrote Svetlova, who has been directly involved with efforts to help Lapshin and his family.
“I am so happy and delighted that he is once again a free man and can soon return to his family,” she continued. “This saga threatened the usually excellent ties between us and Azerbaijan and I thank the President Aliyev that he decided to pardon Lapshin and this ended this sad story.”
Lapshin had sought to avoid being sent to Azerbaijan from Belarus, but the Belorussian supreme court in February upheld a government decision to extradite him.
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.
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.
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