Four Harvard professors are among 220 European and U.S. physicists who sent a telegram to the vice president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences expressing concern over the recent jailing of Russian scientist Yuri Orlov.
Orlov, a prominent high-energy physicist and collaborator with Russian human rights leader Andrei Sakharov, is chief of the unofficial committee which monitors Soviet compliance with the individual civil rights provision in the 1975 Karl Strauch, professor of Physics and one of the signers of the February 18 telegram, said yesterday he hopes concern from so many prominent scientists will encourage Soviet officials to free Orlov and allow him to return to his work.
The telegram included the signatures of six Nobel Prize winners and three other Harvard physics professors, Francis M. Pipkin, Norman F. Ramsey and Richard Wilson.
"All we have is hope; there are no guarantees," Wilson said yesterday.
"Six years ago I personally wrote a letter to Russia about a colleague imprisoned there," Wilson added. "Three weeks later he was freed. But you just can't tell. I have hopes Orlov will be released."
The controversy was prompted earlier this year by a series of sharp criticisms by the Carter Administration on Soviet and Czechoslovak treatment of dissidents.
The State Department warned Moscow that continued harassment of Sakharov conflicted with "accepted international standards of human rights," namely the Helsinki agreement. This comment was followed by a moderate statement of support by President Carter.
Orlov was imprisoned a few days later, following the arrests of other Soviet dissidents including Vladimir Bukovski, Sergei Kovalev and Alexander Ginzburg.
Sakharov said last month he attributes the Soviet wave of repression as an attempt to force Carter into silence on the human rights issue.
Orlov devoted himself in the past year to organizing the Helsinki group and is a corresponding member of the American Academy of Sciences.
Orlov has made international contacts with many western scientists.
"Normally most of us scientist types don't get into political things, but when it concerns a colleague whom we have, in some cases, worked closely with, we feel we must express our concern," Strauch said.
Strauch stressed each scientist signed the telegram as private citizens and concerned scientists, and not as representatives of the various institutions with which they are affiliated.
Wilson said they had to be particularly careful in writing the telegram to avoid conflict with Soviet officials.
"You've got to make sure that you're not defending Orlov and finding him innocent for something you do not know about," Wilson added. "All we asked was that the affair be properly looked into."