WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) and Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) today expressed sorrow over the death on September 27 of physicist Yuri Orlov, the founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group.
“Yuri Orlov truly stood out among the great 20th century human rights activists,” said Chairman Hastings. “While many questioned the value of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, he was quick to see its comprehensive definition of security as an opportunity to advance the cause of human rights in the Soviet Union. He founded the Moscow Helsinki Group with other courageous individuals, and paid the price of nearly a decade of imprisonment, hard labor, and internal exile. Throughout his ordeal, he never questioned his decision nor gave up on his dream. His hope gave us hope and made him a true hero.”
“Without Yuri Orlov, we might not have the OSCE as we know it today,” said Co-Chairman Wicker. “He understood that the Helsinki Accords were unique in addressing relations between states, as well as between governments and citizens. He helped embolden millions of ordinary people to stand up for their rights against repressive regimes. He also helped convince the world that the human rights violations documented by the Moscow Helsinki Group were legitimate and rightful concerns for all. The international human rights movement owes much to his brilliance and fortitude.”
Born in Moscow in 1924, Yuri Orlov was a physicist whose scientific career in the Soviet Union was first limited and then cut short by his support for human rights and democratic change, beginning in the 1950s. In 1973, he became a founding member of the Soviet chapter of Amnesty International. In May 1976, he founded the Moscow Helsinki Group and helped to establish similar groups elsewhere in the country. This was the start of an international human-rights monitoring movement based on the principles and provisions of the Helsinki Final Act that continues to this day.
In February 1977, Orlov was arrested, imprisoned for one year, and after a short show trial, sentenced to seven years’ strict- regime labor camp and five years in exile for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.”
Persecution of its members led the Moscow Helsinki Group to stop its work from 1982 to 1989. While in Siberian exile in 1986, Orlov was stripped of his Soviet citizenship and deported as part of a deal in which U.S. journalist Nicholas Daniloff was traded for a Soviet spy. After arriving in the United States, Orlov immediately resumed his human rights advocacy, and then his scientific work as a senior scientist at Cornell University.
Continuing his advocacy of human rights in Russia and around the world, in 2005 he was the first recipient of the Andrei Sakharov Prize awarded by the American Physical Society to honor scientists for exceptional work in promoting human rights. In “Dangerous Thoughts: Memoirs of a Russian Life,” published in 1991 in the United States, Orlov tells the story of his life as a dissident in the Soviet Union.