Matvei Petrovich Bronstein was a Soviet era theoretical physicist who was arrested in the night of August 6th during Stalins Great Terror. His crime was to believe in communism but not in Stalinism. He was aged just thirty and was executed in a Leningrad prison several months later, in February 1938. In fact, at the time of his arrest he already knew he was under observation by Stalins security apparatus. His wife, Lydia Chukovskaya, was finally allowed to see her husbands inquisition file in 1990 after the collapse of the Soviet regime. At the time of his arrest she was told he had been sentenced to a labour camp for ten years without the right of correspondence. In his file she found the arrest warrant issued by the Kiev state security department on the 5th August, it said:
M. P. Bronstein who is trying to escape arrest should be detained for an active involvement of a Leningrad counter-revolutionary organisation.
They were friends of Andrei Sakharov, a physicist who was involved in the Soviet nuclear weapons programme and was later known for advocating civil liberties and reforms in the Soviet Union. In fact, he won the Nobel peace prize for his efforts and the Sakharov prize is named in his honour and awarded annually by the European Parliament for people and organisations dedicated to human rights and freedoms.
Bronstein counts amongst one of the first pioneers of quantum gravity. Landau had claimed that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle called into question the reality of the electromagnetic field in that it could not be probed with arbitrary precision. Bronstein showed that Landaus analysis was incorrect by showing that it could so be probed by an arbitrarily massive measuring apparatus, but he showed that there was a quantum limit when it came to gravity and this limit became ma icrst when particles approached what is now called the Planck mass. This is the energy scale at which quantum gravity effects are expected to become manifest.
Bronstein of course was not the only physicist to suffer at Stalins hands. According to Gennady Gorelik, his biographer, two other talented physicists were arrested at the same time: Alexander Witt from Moscow and Semen Shubin from Sverdlosk. They were sentenced to five and eight years forced labour respectively. They also both died in the winter of 1938 in the Kolyma.
One imagines these examples can be multiplied many times.