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Valery Abramkin
Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his condolences to the family of respected human rights activist Valery Abramkin, who died in Moscow on January 25 at age 66.

According to a statement posted on the Kremlin's website on January 26, Putin praised Abramkin for "consistently advocating his own, independent point of view."

Abramkin, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and director of the Moscow Center for Prison Reform, labored for years to promote the rights and welfare of convicts and to urge improvements in Russia's penitentiary system.

Abramkin, a nuclear scientist by training, suffered from an extreme form of tuberculosis that he contracted while serving six years in Soviet prisons on charges of "anti-Soviet propaganda."

He co-founded the Moscow Center for Prison Reform in 1988 together with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov.
Behrouz Ghobadi in an undated photo
Iranian filmmaker Behrouz Ghobadi has been released from prison following a campaign demanding his release spearheaded by Amnesty International.

In a press release on January 23, Amnesty said he had been held incommunicado at an undisclosed location since his arrest on November 4, 2012.

Behrouz Ghobadi is the younger brother of internationally acclaimed film director and outspoken government critic Bahman Ghobadi, who lives in exile.

He has been accused of "acting against national security."

But his family says he has never been involved in politics and his only connection to dissident activities is working on several of his brother's films.

Amnesty describes Behrouz Ghobadi's detention as "one of a series of attacks on freedom of expression by the Iranian authorities."

The campaign to demand his release engaged prominent Hollywood directors and actors.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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