CANBERRA: The Armenian National Committee of Australia has condemned the government of Belarus for accepting to extradite a blogger to Azerbaijan for persecution, and the Armenian Youth Federation of Australia along with the Armenian Students Association will protest this act against freedom of speech in Canberra on Friday.
Azerbaijan is recognised by Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch as one of the world’s major persecutors of critical journalists and political opponents. Not content with that, Azerbaijan’s oil-dictator Ilham Aliyev has sought the extradition from Belarus to Azerbaijan of Israeli-Russian blogger Alexander Lapshin, for writing several critical posts against Azerbaijan and its President, and for visiting the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Lapshin was arrested by Belarusian authorities, also infamous for imprisoning critical journalists and academics, at the request of the Azerbaijani government. On 20 January 2017 the General Prosecutor’s Office of Belarus decided to have Lapshin extradited to Azerbaijan, which will be implemented subject to an appeal of that decision, which is currently underway.
Lapshin has visited Nagorno-Karabakh on a number of occasions, writing blogs supportive of the native Armenian inhabitants’ independence and self-determination. In 2016, he had also visited Baku and subsequently wrote blogs criticising the poverty in certain areas of the oil-rich capital Baku, as well as the dictatorial rule of Aliyev.
Both Israeli and Russian diplomatic missions have made representations calling for Lapshin’s release and opposing the extradition.
On 13 January 2017, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Belarusian authorities to unconditionally release Lapshin.
“Aleksander Lasphin should not be jailed for expressing his opinions or travelling to a disputed region,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Co-ordinator Nina Ognianova stated.
The Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANC-AU) has joined the growing calls against what is regarded as an injustice and act against freedom of speech.
“The Armenian National Committee of Australia calls on the Australian government, as well as all human rights and civil liberty organisations in Australia and internationally, to join us in condemning this blatant act of the Azerbaijani dictatorship in attempting to ‘export’ its repression of freedom of speech,” stated ANC-AU Managing Director, Vache Kahramanian.
Kahramanian added: “It must not be allowed to succeed nor encouraged.”
Azerbaijan is ranked 160th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders ‘Press Freedom Index’, and President Aliyev listed as one of the top ‘Predators of Press Freedom’, who has eliminated almost all pluralism in his country.
Azerbaijan has declared approximately 180 journalists ‘persona non grata’ for visiting the self-declared independent Republic of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh), a region natively and primarily inhabited by persecuted Armenians.
Members of the Armenian Youth Federation of Australia (AYF-AU) and the Armenian Students Association (ASA) will be staging a silent protest on Friday 27th January, at the Embassy of Belarus in Canberra.
They will demand that Belarus upholds the rights of freedom of speech by accepting Lapshin’s appeal against the summons issued by Azerbaijan.
“Azerbaijan’s record as a persecutor of press freedom is renowned, and the acceptance of this extradition request by the government of Belarus makes it complicit in Lapshin’s inevitable fate,” said AYF-AU’s Aram Tufenkjian.
“We are staging a silent protest at the Embassy of Belarus in Canberra against the silence that the Belarus government is allowing Aliyev to impose. The world needs the likes of Alexander Lapshin to expose dictatorships like Aliyev, who rules his citizens with an iron fist, while butchering Armenian soldiers every day despite an internationally negotiated ceasefire.”
Alex Galitsky of the ASA, who will represent the Office of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) in Australia at the Protest, highlighted the inequitable charges being pursued against Lapshin by Azerbaijan.
“The specific clauses in the Azeri criminal code Lapshin supposedly violated – clause 281.2, forbidding the public call or support for harming the ‘territorial integrity’ of Azerbaijan; and clause 318.2, which forbids crossing Azerbaijan’s political borders without express permission – demonstrate how violations of the right to freedom of speech and freedom of movement are legally enshrined in Azeri penal code,” Galitsky explained.
“The sentences for each violation are 5-8 years for the first clause, and up to 5 years for the second. This potentially means a total of 13 years imprisonment for doing nothing more than calling for self-determination and security for the people of Artsakh, and the provision of basic human rights to the people of Azerbaijan.”