Alexander Lapshin talk last week at the Sydney Institute was a case study in how the clenched fists and self-interest of corrupt politicians, media and national foreign offices abuse human rights. He pays for his bravery in bringing truth to power and the truth protects him.

The themes of his testimony included his experiences of imprisonment and brutal assault in jail in Azerbaijan, related court decisions in Baku and Europe, and his need for publicity to continue to protect himself. This post is based on facts stated by him in his talk.

Lapshin is a journalist, born in Russia and holds a Russian passport. He lives in and became a citizen of Israel in the 1990s. As an citizen of Israel, in 2011 he visited the mountainous region in the south Caucasus known as Artsakh (also known as Karabagh). The region has two millennia of Armenian cultural history. He wrote a few pieces about his travel there, nothing of special significance.

Five years later he was in Minsk, Belarus when in December 2016 masked police raided his hotel room and arrested him acting on a request by Azerbaijan. It emerged that Azerbaijan did not approve of him entering Karabagh in 2011 without its permission.

The arrest of Lapshin became international news. Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov asked for Lapshin to be released. At the time, and during the harrowing period that followed, Lapshin says Israel just did “nothing.” The core reason stated by the Israeli consul visiting Lapshin in prison was this: “You are a troublemaker. Because Azerbaijan is our ally.”

After two months imprisonment in Minsk he was extradited to prison in Baku and Sumgait in Azerbaijan. As Lapshin notes in his talk, both cities were places of pogroms against Armenians in the late 1980s. He also notes that due to the 2022-2023 Second Armenian Genocide Azerbaijan has removed Armenians from all of Azerbaijan and Artsakh.

Mehriban Aliyeva, Vice President of Azerbaijan with her husband Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan

At 00:15:00 in the video Lapshin tells this cult of personality prison story. “From time to time I was invited to the office of the head of the jail. His name was Cornel Rashid Safarov. It was a huge office, a really huge office. Where I was sitting in his office, I started just to count the portraits of Ilham Aliyev, of President Aliyev [of Azerbaijan]. There were 44, 44 and plus two statues of Ilham Aliyev. … This is a real dictatorship, just like North Korea.”

Lapshin goes on to say he was given two options by prison leaders. He either had to publically say “Karabagh is Azerbaijan” or be raped. Ultimately he did not do as requested and was sentenced in a puppet court to three and a half years of imprisonment. As numerous reports indicate, Azerbaijan’s judiciary is part of the nation’s systemic level of corruption. Freedom House stated in 2023 “Prosecutors and judges in Azerbaijan are controlled by the executive branch, although the constitution nominally guarantees judicial independence.”

He was put in an Azerbaijan prison cell that had no window and a permanently on lightbulb.

Within days of the court’s decision, one evening in that prison cell he was assaulted by four masked men, one of whom tried to strangle him. Four days later he opened his eyes in intensive care in a local hospital. He had a broken hand, fingers, jaw and teeth. He could not feel the left part of his body due to a brain injury as if from a stroke.

President Ilham Aliyev communicates with his fist

This and the “V for victory” sign are two of Aliyev’s favourites for photo shoots. This photo was issued by Azerbaijan’s Presidential Press Office on 20 October 2020 during Azerbaijan’s war of aggression against Artsakh, known as the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War

Subsequently, Azerbaijan announced that Lapshin had attempted suicide and had been pardoned by the president of Azerbaijan and could fly to Israel.

Connected with his arrest and imprisonment, in more recent years Lapshin has won two human rights court decisions. A 2021 decision was brought under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, better known as the European Convention on Human Rights.

Azerbaijan has refused to comply with any of the court decisions against it. Where the cult of personality rules, human rights and law are held in the fists of Big Brother.

Regarding the lead graphic of this post read the Azerbaijani laundromat Wikipedia page. See too the pages on Caviar diplomacy and Human rights in Azerbaijan.

Noric Dilanchian