January 30, 2017 - 15:33 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The Armenian National Committees of Greater Washington (ANC of GW) and New York (ANC of New York) on Sunday, January 29 held simultaneous protests in front of Belarus’ diplomatic missions in Washington, DC and New York City demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the Russian-Israeli blogger Alexandr Lapshin.
Lapshin currently faces extradition from Belarus to Azerbaijan for traveling and reporting from Nagorno Karabakh and speaking critically of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s dictatorial regime.
The gathered voiced their discontent and outrage over Azerbaijan’s continuous assault against free media and journalists over the past several years, with Lapshin being the latest victim.
“We condemn in the strongest terms any attempt to silence or intimidate journalists and individuals who travel to the free and independent Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh),” said ANCA Eastern Region Chairman Steve Mesrobian.
“Azerbaijan and Belarus are two of Europe’s last remaining dictatorships and for us it is absolutely unacceptable to silence journalists for speaking up about human rights offences or for expressing their support for the free and democratic Republic of Artsakh. We also call upon the United States government to take a strong stance on this issue in solidarity with the people of Nagorno Karabakh Republic, our democratic and reliable ally in the region.”
On December 15, 2016, police in Belarus detained Lapshin, a popular travel blogger based in Moscow, for his prior visits to Karabakh and for his criticism of the Aliyev regime. In his postings, Lapshin had expressed support for the right to self-determination of the people of Artsakh. On January 20, 2017, at President Aliyev’s request, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Belarus decided to have Lapshin extradited to Azerbaijan. An appeal to the ruling was recently denied.
Both Israeli and Russian diplomatic missions have made representations calling for Lapshin’s release and opposing the extradition. Lapshin was reported to be "in poor mental health," "depressed," and under pressure from Belarussian officials to agree to voluntary extradition.
Azerbaijan has declared 180 journalists personae non gratae - meaning they cannot enter the country – because of prior visits to the Republic of Artsakh.