Amnesty International USA mourns Russian human rights titan Yuri Orlov who was traded to U.S. in 1986 for the release of Soviet spy Gennady Zakharov

Amnesty International USA on Tuesday described the passing of Soviet human rights icon Yuri Orlov as “a genuine loss not only for Russia but the entire world”.

Moscow Helsinki Group founder Yuri Orlov passed away on Monday at the age of 96. The group announced his death on its website without specifying the cause.

In 1973, Orlov founded the Moscow branch of Amnesty International, and three years later in 1976, helped create the Moscow Helsinki Group.

“Initially, the organization’s purpose was to monitor Soviet compliance with the Helsinki Accords and to report to the West on human rights abuses in the USSR. A year later, Orlov was sentenced to eight years in a labor camp and another five years in exile for anti-Soviet propaganda. The Moscow Helsinki Group was forced out of existence in the early 1980s, but revived in 1989 and continues to operate in Russia today,” noted Meduza.

“In 1986, Orlov was traded to the United States along with the jailed journalist Nicholas Daniloff in exchange for the release of Gennady Zakharov, a physicist working in the Soviet UN Mission arrested for espionage. Orlov spent the rest of his life in the U.S., where he was naturalized in 1993, though Mikhail Gorbachev restored his Soviet citizenship in 1990.

“Like Soviet human rights icon Andrei Sakharov, Orlov was a nuclear physicist. After arriving in America, he taught as a professor of physics at Cornell University. In 2005, he was the first recipient of the Andrei Sakharov Prize, now awarded biennially by the American Physical Society to honor scientists for exceptional work in promoting human rights,” the publication added.

Amnesty International USA Board Chair Dr. Reza Fakhari said Yuri Orlov is a “true icon” for many.

Fakhari wrote: “The death of Yuri Orlov is a genuine loss not only for Russia but the entire world, and all those who stand for justice and human rights. A true icon to many, he founded the Moscow branch of Amnesty International and later helped create the Moscow Helsinki Group to help monitor whether the actions of Soviet leaders were in compliance with the Helsinki Accords to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. In honor of his lifetime commitment to freedom for all, he was the first recipient of the Andrei Sakharov Prize, recognizing outstanding leadership and/or achievements of scientists in upholding human rights.

“An accomplished nuclear physicist who taught at Cornell University, many respected and loved Yuri Orlov for the incredible courage and bravery he displayed in the face of authoritarianism. Despite being exiled to Armenia in 1956 and being sentenced to a harsh labor camp, he never once wavered in his values and dedication to justice. Even in darker Soviet moments, Orlov held steadfast to the idea that all people stand equal to each other in dignity and rights. 

“As an early supporter of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms of glasnost, perestroika, and new thinking in international relations, Orlov received his first visa to return to the Soviet Union in June 1989.

“Orlov’s courage and audacity to stand for what’s right is important now more than ever as the concerned activists in the United States and other parts of the world are staring down and fighting against grave human rights violations. 

May Orlov’s memory keep us steadfast in our work to continue the fight for justice, and may we remember that we all stand on the shoulders of this giant.” 

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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