by John Carey
ON MONDAY eight top British scientists are due in Hamburg, West Germany, for an international forum aimed at "improving and broadening scientific learning."
There will also be a delegation from the Soviet Union, But one man who should be there will instead be working on a metal lathe in labour camp in the Urals.
Dr Yuri Orlov is acknowledged to be one of the most gifted Soviet physicists. In May 1978 he was sentenced to seven years' hard labour followed by five years internal exile for "slandering the Soviet state" His real crime was to head the Moscow Helsinki Monitoring Group. which reports in detail on the abuse of human rights.
The carefully documented evidence which he and his colleagues provided included facts about the persecution of Christian believers. It showed for example, that believers were frequently sacked from their jobs or relegated to unskilled work, and that children were expelled from school for practising their religion.
One particular case involved seven Catholic youngsters expelled from a school in Vilnius, Lithuania after being interrogated bs the KGB. They were earlier warned not to go to Mass or to visit a prominent CLitholic activist.
Dr Orlov was last visited by his wile in Camp 37 on August 21, 1979. She found him thin and emaciated: his teeth were decaying and his head and spine ached — the aftermath or a car crash several years earlier for which he needs treatment.
Last year he helped to compile a report by prisoners on conditions in Soviet camps, where it is estimated that about five million people (two per cent of the population) are engaged in forced labour.
The report said that in many cases two or three people were confined to a 10 square metre cell which serves as "bedroom, dining room. lavatory and workplace."
The lights are switched on at 5 am and remain on until 10 pm. Food, medical treatment and working conditions are generally appalling.
The report comments: "A man's health rarely holds out for more than six months to the work and constant noise for 16 hours a day. Usually it breaks down after three months."
Mr John Macdonald, the London lawyer responsible for defending Dr Orlov, has appealed to the British delegation to demand at the start of the meeting that the Soviet representatives explain why Dr Orlov is detained, and why he has never received a fair trial. He argues that if no satisfactory answer is forthcoming, the British should leave after seeking a postponement of the meeting until Dr Orlov is released.
Those calling for a boycott of the Moscow Olympics argue that some things must take precedence over sport. It would seem that for Dr Orlov's sake the same argument should be applied to the meeting in Hamburg. In this case. however, science may prove more sacred than sport.