Leading former Soviet dissident dies aged 83

The former Soviet dissident Alexander Lavut, who spent several years in a prison camp and was a close collaborator of Nobel peace prize winner Andrei Sakharov, died today in Moscow aged 83, his family told AFP.

A specialist in mathematics and geophysics, Lavut was sent in 1980 to three years in a prison camp for "spreading anti-Soviet slander" and his involvement in the Chronicle of Current Events underground periodical that detailed human rights violations in the USSR.

He was also accused of helping to publish Alexander Solzhenitsyn's classic work about the Soviet prison camp system "The Gulag Archipelago" in samizdat self-published format.

After serving this sentence, he was again arrested and sentenced to five years house arrest in a village in the Far East Khabarovsk region some 6,700 kilometres east of Moscow.

Lavut was part of the first organised dissident group in the Soviet Union, the Group of Initiatives for Defending Human Rights created in 1969.

He was particularly known for bringing to the attention of the West the plight of the Tatars of Crimea who were deported by Stalin to Central Asia and not allowed to return to their homeland until right up to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"It is difficult to calculate the importance of everything he did to receive and publish information about the fight for human rights in our country," Sakharov, who died in 1989, wrote after Lavut was convicted.

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