HAIFA, Israel (Eurasianet.org) – If Azerbaijan expected gratitude for releasing a blogger from prison early, it has miscalculated. When Russian-Israeli travel blogger Alexander Lapshin was released after seven months in an Azerbaijani prison, his lawyer announced that Lapshin had written a letter of thanks to the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev.
“Today I learned that you [Mr. President] have signed an order on my pardon. I am very thankful to you for this,” said the letter, released on September 13 by Lapshin’s lawyer in Azerbaijan.
Lapshin had been arrested in Belarus in December, and then extradited to Azerbaijan in February, for crossing into Nagorno Karabakh, the territory that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but which is controlled by Armenian forces.
His time in prison, it appeared, had changed his views on the Karabakh question. “Now I am fully convinced that Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijani territory. I hope that the Nagorno-Karabakh problem will be resolved within Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity,” the letter continued. The blogger “also wished President Ilham Aliyev strong health and long life, expressing hope for the soonest liberation of the Azerbaijani territories,” news agency APA reported.
To no one’s surprise, however, as soon as Lapshin was out of the country his views quickly shifted. He took to his blog and Facebook to tell his side of the story, which contradicted the Azerbaijani narrative in almost every respect.
For one, he denied Azerbaijani government statements that he had attempted suicide while in prison. Instead, he wrote, he was badly beaten, to the point that he passed out and woke up in a hospital hooked up to a catheter and an oxygen mask. He further speculates that the attack was carried out to discredit Aliyev personally, which he says corresponds to what he has been told by Azerbaijan’s opposition living abroad.