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Personality Spotlight;NEWLN:Yuri Orlov Soviet dissident group founder

Yuri Orlov, an ousted Communist Party member and internationally respected physicist, could have lived the good life in the Soviet Union. But his conscience kept getting in the way.

After twice outraging the rulers of his nation, Orlov in May 1976 founded and became chairman of a group that kept track of Soviet violations of the Helsinki Human Rights Act which had been signed the year before.

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For that he was sentenced in 1978 to seven years in a prison camp in Siberia to be followed by five more years in internal exile. Even then he would not be muzzled. He circulated protests against his mistreatment at the camp, near the Ural Mountains city of Perm, and several times went on hunger strikes.

His activities resulted in further punishment.

But on Sunday, the 62-year-old Orlov and his wife, Irina, arrived in a New York as part of a complex superpower deal that freed Orlov three years earlier than scheduled.

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The deal also freed U.S. News & World Report journalist Nicholas Daniloff, who had been arrested on espionarge charges, from Soviet control in exchange for the release of Soviet Gennadi Zakharov, who pleaded no contest to spying charges in New York. Simultaneously, a superpower mini-summit was announced for Oct. 11-12.

On the same day last week when it was announced that Orlov would be part of the deal, he won $50,000 for his human rights activities in an award established by former President Jimmy Carter.

Soft-spoken but iron-willed, the once red-haired Orlov got used to suffering for actions that shed light on the abuses of Soviet authorities.

As early as 1956 he stood up at a Communist Party meeting and called for democratic changes. He was expelled from the party and dismissed from Moscow's Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics.

Unable to find work, Orlov went to Armenia, where his scientific work won him selection as candidate member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences.

Orlov could have eased back into the party's good graces and enjoyed the extra benefits that go to highly regarded scientists. He returned to Moscow in 1970 and took a post at the Institute of Terrestrial Magnetism and Radiowave Propagation.

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But in 1972, hesent a letter to Leonid Brezhnev, protesting the official harassment of fellow scientist Andrei Sakharov. He also joined the Moscow branch of Amnesty International.

The response was swift -- he was fired and for four years was unable to find work.

In May 1976, Orlov took the boldest step of his life and the one that would mark him as a target of officialdom.

Along with committed political dissidents like Anatoly Shcharansky and Alexander Ginzburg, Ludmilla Alexeyeva and Lydia Veronina, Orlov became a charter member of the Moscow Branch of the Helsinki Monitoring Group.

The group began its work with boldness -- some thought naivete - telephoning Western journalists and distributing its findings on letterhead paper. It passed documents and declarations to Western embassies as well, alleging the Soviet Union's compliance with the Helsinki accords was spotty at best, and at worst, non-existent.

Other monitoring groups popped up in Armenia, Georgia, Lithuania and the Ukraine. Religious activist groups such as Seventh Day Adventists and Baptists joined in, too.

All of the information was channeled through Orlov, who became an eloquent spokesman for human rights.

When his own arrest seemed imminent, he spoke out louder, charging information provided by his group to the Belgrade review conference of the Final Act 'brings official organs to a state of confusion.'

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But not of inaction.

Three times he was summoned for official questioning, and three times he refused and was taken by force.

On Feb. 10, 1977, Orlov was arrested and held incommunicado until his trial 15 months later. He was charged with 'anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.'

The prosecution charges and evidence went right to the heart of Orlov's activities, specifically charging him with associating with the Western press and distributing documents on such subjects as Jewish emigration, psychiatric abuse and religious persecution.

According to the physicist's second wife, Irina, Orlov told the court it was his right to criticize and his right under the Helsinki accords to distribute his criticism.

But the court convicted him and meted out the maximum sentence under the charge -- seven years in prison and five in internal exile.

'Ideological tolerance is necessary for peaceful coexistance,' Orlov said in his final remarks to the court. 'Ideological confrontation provides the basic cause for the arms race and not the other way around.'

His words were drowned out by spectators who shouted: 'traitor ... spy.'

The conviction sparked an outcry within the dissident community, from scientific groups abroad and the U.S. Congress.

Orlov was moved from a Moscow area prison to the strict regime labor camp in the Ural province of Perm to serve out his term. Mrs. Orlov said he worked as a lathe operator.

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Several times, Mrs. Orlov reported efforts to visit her husband were rejected on the ground that he had broken the camp rules. Her parcels were often returned, unopened.

Orlov's son, Dmitri, said his father wrote several petitions demanding improved conditions for political prisoners in the Soviet labor camps, and for common criminals as well.

In 1984, Orlov was exiled to Kobyai in Siberia. His health improved after that, especially since he was allowed last year to buy a house with a garden.

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