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A photo of Gulag prisoners in Perm (undated).

Russia's Interior Ministry says it is digitizing thousands of registration cards of prisoners caught up in the Soviet-era gulag camp system, not destroying them as historians warned.

The ministry released its statement on June 13, about a week after a Russian researcher first made the charge that the records were being destroyed.

According to historians, the registration cards contain key information about people caught up in the sprawling prison camp system that existed for decades during the Soviet era.

The Moscow-based Gulag History Museum, considered the country’s foremost exhibition of the prison camp system, said earlier this month that researcher Sergei Prudovsky had discovered a directive from 2014 ordering the destruction of the cards.

The issue caught the attention of the Kremlin-backed Presidential Human Rights Council, whose chairman said such a move would be "barbaric."

There was no immediate reaction to the Interior Ministry’s announcement by the history museum.

Concern about the archival records comes as Russian authorities have downplayed the horrors of the Soviet camp system, and the system of repression overseen by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

President Vladimir Putin has openly lamented the demise of the Soviet Union, and sought to highlight positive aspects, such as the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

As many as 17 million people were sent to the camps, with an estimated 2 million being held at their peak in the 1930s and 1940s.

Among the best-known accounts of the camps' horrors was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s epic history The Gulag Archipelago.

With reporting by Current Time TV
Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh (file photo)

Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been arrested in the country’s capital, her husband says.

Reza Khandan wrote on Facebook that security forces appeared at the couple's home on June 13 and took his wife to a court at Tehran's Evin prison.

Khandan told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that security forces said that they were taking Sotoudeh away over a prison sentence issued in the past.

"They said they have an arrest warrant for a five-year prison sentence issued for her apparently by a revolutionary court. But they didn’t have the verdict for them," Khandan said.

He added that Sotoudeh didn’t know "anything" about the case.

The 55-year-old human rights lawyer has been pressured and jailed in the past for taking up sensitive cases.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International condemned her latest detention, calling it an "outrageous attack on a brave and prolific human rights defender."

Sotoudeh has represented several women recently detained for peacefully protesting against the country’s strict dress code by removing their head scarves in public.

An outspoken critic of the Iranian judiciary, she also criticized a newly-created list of lawyers who will be allowed to represent detainees charged with national-security crimes.

The mother of two was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to six years in prison on a number of charges including acting against Iran's national security.

She was released in 2013 after serving three years.

While in prison, Sotoudeh repeatedly went on hunger strike in protest at her arrest and at being deprived of her rights while in jail.

In 2012, the European Parliament gave its most prestigious award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, to Sotoudeh and acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi.

With reporting by AFP and AP

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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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