The State Department, in a new surge of outspokenness on human rights, admonished the Soviet Union yesterday against attempts "to intimidate" leading Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov.
"We have long admired Andrei Sakharov as an outspoken champion of human rights in the Soviet Union," said the State Department in lauding the physicist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Sakharov was summoned to the Soviet prosecutor's office in Moscow on Tuesday and warned that he faces criminal charges unless he ceases "hostile and slanderous" activities. The State Department, in its comment, noted that Sakharov "at considerable risk has worked to promote respect for human rights in his native land."
"Any attempts by the Soviet authoritites to intimidate Mr. Sakharov," the State Department said, "will not silence legitimate criticism in the Soviet Union and will conflict with accepted international standards in the field of human rights."
That official cautioning comment was the second in two days from the State Department that reproached a Communist nation on observance of human rights.
On Wednesday the department issued a sterner criticism of Czechoslovakia, over reports that it had "detained or harassed" Czechs who protested the violation of human rights pledged in the 1975 Helsinki agreement signed by 35 nations. "We must strongly deplore the violation of such rights and freedoms wherever they occur," the department said in upholding the complaints of 300 Czechs who signed a protest entitled "Charter 77."
The statement yesterday in defense of Sakharov was a written response to a newsman's question, touched off by the statement in Czechoslovakia the day before.
Sakharov is the most prominent dissident remaining in the Soviet Union. He participated in developing the Soviet hydrogen bomb. His scientific prestige plus his championship of the right to dissent, recognized by the Nobel prize in 1975, have made the outstanding symbol of the human rights struggle in Eastern Europe.
Although the Sakharov statement stopped short of directly accusing the Soviet Union of violating the Helsinki accord, it is the first criticism of the Soviet Union by the Carter administration and is bound to be resented in the Kremlin.
Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger was opposed to raising such issues publicly, advocating "quiet diplomacy" on human rights matters. A storm of controversy developed in 1975 when Kissinger recommended against inviting expelled Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn to the Ford White House.
President Carter has pledged the opposite approach, an American leading role in promoting human rights. In his campaign he said, "We must . . . insist that the Soviet Union and other countries recognize the human rights of all citizens who live within their boundaries . . ."
Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in responses to questions made public this week that "the Carter administration will vigorously pursue human rights matters with the Soviet Union which come under the terms of the Helsinki accord."
Vance is presently awaiting a Soviet response to a proposal for him to visit Moscow about the end of March, to seek to accelerate negotiations on a new nuclear strategic arms limitation talks (SALT) agreement.
One official in the State Department's bureau of European affairs, where the statements on Czech dissidents and on Sakharov originated, said yesterday that there is now "just a different perspective" on the human rights issue. No prodding was required by the new team at the department to stimulate the current statements, it was said, but rather the statements readily emerged at lower levels with recognition of the new policy direction.
A pattern of intensified activity is now forecast in international human rights championship at the State Department, Patt (Patricia M.) Derian, a civil rights activist from Mississippi, is reported to be a leading candidate for the post of coordinator for human rights and humanitarian affairs.
That position, equal in rank and pay to an assistant secretary of state, was strengthened last year by inclusion in legislation by Congress. The new legislation bans foreign aid to nations that engage in "a extraordinary circumstances." Kissinger had opposed such legislative requirements as damaging to the conduct of foreign policy.
Derian, who was a campaign director for President Carter, is the Democratic national committeewoman for Mississippi, president of the Southern Regional Council, and a national director of the American Civil Liberties Union. She is reported to have been recommended to Vance by the White House for the State Department post, which is now filled by presidential appointment.