An Israeli-Russian blogger who was imprisoned in Azerbaijan landed in Israel Thursday following his pardon and release earlier in the week.
Alexander Lapshin had been facing three years behind bars for traveling to an out-of-bounds area in Armenia, but on Monday, the office of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said that he was pardoning Lapshin, who had petitioned to be extradited to Israel.
Lapshin was greeted at the airport by his family and Zionist Union Knesset member Ksenia Svetlova, who was involved in efforts to help the blogger and his family.
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.
Haaretz, citing senior Israeli officials, reported that Lapshin’s pardon had come as a surprise.
The officials, who were not named in the report, said that it was likely Lapshin was pardoned because Baku authorities became concerned after he tried to commit suicide, and were worried he could die in prison.
According to the report, Lapshin’s legal representative told the Azerbaijan State News Agency that his client had tried to kill himself during the prolonged negotiations for him to be extradited to Israel. In July, he asked to be moved to Israel, where his family lives, and turned down an offer to be imprisoned in Russia.
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.
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.