One of Russia’s most famous human rights defender and former Soviet dissident, Sergei Kovalev has died, aged 91 as announced by his family.
Sergei Adamovich Kovalev was a Russian human right activist, politician, a dissident and political prisoner in the Soviet era. He was also a biologist who became one of the leading members of the Action Group for the Defense of Human Rights in the USSR in 1969, the first independent body in the Soviet Union.
In 1964, Kovalev and 2 other members gave a press conference for foreign journalists, declaring their determination to renew publication of the bulletin and distributing three postponed issues. As a result of this, Sergei Kovalev was arrested, charged with “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” and imprisoned.
He served 7 years in penitentiary facilities for political prisoners, followed by 3 years of internal exile in Kolyma in the Russian Far East. Upon his return, he settled in Kalinin (now Tver). He moved back to Moscow in 1987.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he turned to official politics and became a fierce critic of Moscow’s war in Chechyna.
In 1991,he coauthored the Declaration of Human and Civil Rights in Russia and was a major contributor to Article 2 (Rights and Liberties of Man and Citizen), the country’s constitution.
Kovalev was a recipient of numerous awards and honorary titles. In 2004, he was awarded the Victor Gollancz Prize by the Society for Threatened Peoples, for documenting Russian crimes in Chechnya.
In 2011, he was honored with the Lithuanian Freedom Award for his adherence to democratic values and ideals of freedom.
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.
In addition, a dissident under the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, Kovalev was appointed chairman of President Boris Yeltsin’s human rights commission in 1994 but 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. He warned against democratic backsliding when President Vladimir Putin came to power.
In July 2001, two months after Putin was inaugurated as president, Kovalev said “A controlled democracy is being created in our country that seeks to create problems for ‘enemies inside as well as outside.”