"He helped found the Soviet chapter of Amnesty International (1973), founded the first Helsinki human rights monitoring group (1976), and was arrested for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" (1977). After 7 years in prison and strict-regime labor camp and 2 1/2 years in Siberian exile, he was deported to New York City.
"His memoir Dangerous Thoughts (1991) appeared in America, Russia, Germany, and France. In 1993 he became an American citizen. Honorary Chairman, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and a member of the revived Moscow Helsinki Group, Orlov has continued his human rights activity, campaigning for Russian and Chinese political prisoners, advising Russian human rights organizations, and lobbying for a Bosnian war crimes tribunal. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and fellow of the American Physical Society, he has received several honorary degrees and human rights awards, including the Carter-Menil Human Rights Prize and the American Physical Society Nicholson Medal." 
He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Asia Advisory Committee.
In 2000, was a member of the Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee.