Yuri Fyodorovich Orlov was born on Aug. 13, 1924, in a village near Moscow to Fyodor Pavlovich Orlov, a truck driver who became an aviation engineer, and Klavdiya Petrovna Lebedeva. His father died when Yuri was 9.
He served in the Soviet Army from 1944 to 1946 as an artillery officer; finished high school in Moscow, where he worked as a stoker; and graduated in 1952 from the Physico-Technical Department of Moscow University. He earned two doctorates, from the Yerevan Physics Institute in Armenia and the Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics in Siberia.
In 1956, after publicly advocating democratic socialism, he was fired as a research physicist at the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics and expelled from the Communist Party. In 1973, in a letter to Leonid Brezhnev, the general secretary of the party, he denounced the stultifying effect of repression on scientific research and presciently proposed “glasnost,” or openness, long before that word was in common use.
The National Security Archive, a Washington research group, said in a statement that Professor Orlov contributed “enormous intellectual capital to the international human rights movement and to social processes that culminated in the peaceful revolutions of 1989.”
Professor Orlov was arrested in 1977 and, after a show trial, sentenced to seven years in a labor camp, followed by five years in Siberian exile, for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.” During his imprisonment, he managed to smuggle out scientific and human rights documents that were published in the West.
In 1986, halfway through his exile, he was stripped of his Soviet citizenship and deported as part of a swap that included the exchange of Nicholas S. Daniloff, an American journalist, for a Soviet spy, on the eve of a summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, between President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev.