Rus­sian blog­gers gets prison term

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL -

BAKU, Azer­bai­jan — A court in Azer­bai­jan on Thurs­day sen­tenced a Rus­sian blog­ger to three years in prison for il­le­gally cross­ing the bor­der af­ter he trav­eled to a sep­a­ratist-con­trolled re­gion of the coun­try.

Alexan­der Lap­shin was de­tained by po­lice in Be­larus last year and ex­tra­dited to Azer­bai­jan, where author­i­ties filed charges against him over his trip to Nagorno-Karabakh through Ar­me­nia sev­eral years ago. The blog­ger’s ex­tra­di­tion from Be­larus came dur­ing a rift be­tween Rus­sia and Be­larus, mak­ing the Lap­shin case a highly politi­cized mat­ter.

Nagorno-Karabakh is of­fi­cially part of Azer­bai­jan. Since a sep­a­ratist war ended in 1994, it has been un­der the con­trol of forces that claim to be lo­cal eth­nic Ar­me­ni­ans but that Azer­bai­jan says in­clude many Ar­me­nian troops.

Ef­forts to ne­go­ti­ate a set­tle­ment have failed, and fre­quent clashes have con­tin­ued. Over the week­end, sep­a­ratist author­i­ties in Nagorno-Karabakh said four of their troops were killed in fight­ing, and Azer­bai­jan said one of its sol­diers was killed last Fri­day.

The judge at the court in Azer­bai­jan’s cap­i­tal, Baku, on Thurs­day con­victed Lap­shin of il­le­gally cross­ing the bor­der but found him in­no­cent of “pub­lic calls against the state,” a sec­ond charge he faced. Pros­e­cu­tors asked the court to sen­tence the blog­ger to six years in prison.

Lap­shin’s lawyer, Ed­uard Ch­ernin, told re­porters af­ter the rul­ing that his client, who also holds Ukrainian and Is­raeli cit­i­zen­ship, will ap­peal the ver­dict and hopes for ex­tra­di­tion to one of his home coun­tries.

In his fi­nal ar­gu­ment Wed­nes­day, Lap­shin pleaded in­no­cent and said he re­spects Azer­bai­jan’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity.

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