One of Russia’s most famous human rights defenders and former Soviet dissident, Sergei Kovalev, has died aged 91, his family said Monday.
Kovalev was a biologist who became one of the leading members of the USSR’s pro-democracy movement. He was held in Soviet labour camps for his activism.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he became a fierce critic of Moscow’s war in Chechnya and warned against democratic backsliding when President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.
His son Ivan Kovalev said on Facebook that his father died “in his sleep” in the early hours of Monday morning.
Russian rights group Memorial, which Kovalev once chaired, said he was “faithful to the idea of human rights always and in everything — in war and peace, in politics and everyday life”.
The leading rights organisation — which has been labelled a “foreign agent” by Russian authorities under a controversial law — said Kovalev had campaigned for human rights since 1969.
“He consistently fought for the same principles” in post-Soviet Russia, it said on Facebook.
A dissident under the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, Kovalev was appointed chairman of President Boris Yeltsin’s human rights commission in 1994.
He was dismissed from the post for his outspoken criticism of Russia’s brutal intervention in the Chechen conflict.
Kovalev also criticised the political system created by Putin, a former spy for the KGB security agency.
“A controlled democracy is being created in our country that seeks to create problems for ‘enemies inside as well as outside’,” he said in July 2001, two months after Putin was inaugurated as president. (AFP)