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Web guru Aaron Swartz dies

Aaron Swartz, a talented American web developer and iconic Internet freedom activist has committed suicide aged 26. Swartz was facing charges in a controversial fraud case.

In this Jan. 30, 2009 photo, Internet activist Aaron Swartz poses for a photo in Miami Beach, Fla. (Photo:The New York Times, Michael Francis McElroy/AP/dapd)

Aaron Swartz Internetaktivist

Twenty six-year-old Web prodigy and Internet activist Aaron Swartz has committed suicide by hanging himself, authorities said Saturday.

Swartz was found on Friday at his Brooklyn apartment. He was a co-founder of Reddit, a user-centric news and entertainment site, and helped to create the Web feed system RSS while a teenager. He was also a fierce spokesman against Internet censorship, and directed the activist group Demand Progress to that end.

The non-profit spearheaded a successful campaign in 2011 to block the Stop Online Piracy Act, which had been introduced into US Congress. The legislation would have enabled courts to curb access to websites thought to be engaging in unlawful intellectual property sharing. Swartz had argued that it would give government too much power over Web communication.

A controversial fraud case

But Swartz had also been embroiled in a serious fraud case in the months leading up to his death.

In 2011 he was charged with the theft of millions of academic journals from computer archives at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was a fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University at the time. The prosecution alleged that he intended to distribute the papers for free.

Swartz, who was due to go on trial later this year, had pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could have faced up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million (roughly 750,000 euros) penalty.

In a statement which was made public on Saturday, Swartz's family and partner linked his prosecution to his suicide.

"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach," said the statement.

"The U.S. Attorney's office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims," it also stated.

MIT was available for comment. Nor was the US Attorney's office.

sej/msh (AP, Reuters)