Yelena Bonner: Russian human rights activist dies at 88

Andrei Sakharov (left) and his wife Yelena Bonner in Moscow, file pic from 1987
Image caption Yelena Bonner married the nuclear scientist and fellow human rights activist Andrei Sakharov

Russian human rights activist Yelena Bonner has died at the age of 88 after a long illness in the US.

She was active in the human rights movement in the USSR in the 1960s, and helped to found the Moscow Helsinki Group, a rights monitoring body.

In 1972 she married the nuclear scientist and fellow human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, who won the Nobel Peace Prize three years later.

She later became a fierce critic of the then Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Mrs Bonner died on Saturday in the US, where she had lived in recent years in the Boston area, her daughter Tatiana Yankelevich and son Alexey Semyonov said in a statement.

It did not give the cause of death.

The statement added that Mrs Bonner's ashes would be interred next to her husband's remains at Moscow's Vostryakovo cemetery, in accordance with her wish.

Europe's lawmakers and senior politicians on Sunday paid tribute to Mrs Bonner's courageous fight for freedom.

"The world has lost one of the most inspiring and dedicated human rights defenders," European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso noted "the courage she showed in standing up for fundamental freedoms and human dignity that people worldwide demand".

'Individual sovereignty'

When her husband was sent into internal exile for his activism, it was Mrs Bonner who made sure his writing was published, and when he won the Nobel Peace Prize, it was his wife who collected the award on his behalf.

She was arrested for anti-Soviet agitation in 1984 and exiled to Gorki, but she was allowed to travel to the US a year later.

Sakharov died in 1989, but Yelena Bonner continued her political activism and criticism of the Russian political system.

"Until the [Communist] party truly gives up all its wealth to the people who really earned it, everything, down to the last... rouble, Stalinism will still triumph and it will still triumph until we can establish the principle of sovereignty," she said in 1991.

"Sovereignty of the individual, sovereignty of the family and home, sovereignty of every ethnic group and every state."

Mrs Bonner was a fierce critic of President Boris Yeltsin after he sent troops into Chechnya, says the BBC's Stephen Rosenberg in Moscow.

Last year, she was one of the first and most prominent signatories of an online petition against Mr Putin, Russia's current prime minister.

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