Russian ex-dissident and prison rights activist Abramkin dies

MOSCOW Sat Jan 26, 2013 9:16am EST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Valery Abramkin, a former Soviet dissident, nuclear scientist and rights activist who was held for years in the Siberian gulag and campaigned for prison reform in Vladimir Putin's Russia, has died, his colleagues said on Saturday.

Abramkin, 66, head of the Moscow Center For Prison Reform and a member of the Moscow Helsinki rights group and Putin's Presidential Rights Council, died late on Friday after a long illness.

"(Abramkin) sincerely strove to contribute to the development and humanization of national legislation, the strengthening of the modern system of protecting human rights and freedoms of citizens," Putin wrote in a condolence telegram cited by the Kremlin's press service.

An advocate of civil liberties and reforms in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s, he served six years in prisons and in a Siberian colony for "anti-Soviet propaganda," before being sent to exile to the Tver region in 1985.

While in the camps, Abramkin, who was fired from his job in 1976 at the Moscow Institute of Chemical Technology for "anti-Soviet activity," contracted tuberculosis and its side-effects plagued him for the rest of his life.

In 1988, along with Nobel-prize winning nuclear scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, he founded the Prison and Liberty group that later became the Moscow Center for Prison Reform.

(Reporting and writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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