Soviets crack down on Christians who campaign for human rights
Boston — They are young Russians in Moscow and Leningrad. They identify with young Americans. And they are among dozens of Russians arrested or imprisoned recently to be a new Soviet crackdown on religious and human rights activists.
"We identify with your freedom, humanity, honesty, and love for the earth," reads a new open letter to young Americans from the Christian Seminar or Problems of the Religious Renaissance, an organization of young Russian intellectuals.
"We feel your influence around us. . . . We wear your clothes, play your music. . . . Thanks to your example, hundreds of young people in our country are breaking free from . . . totalitarian ideological coercion. . . . In the spiritual struggles of modern humanity we both have assumed the most dangerous and thankless task, namely to be . . . pioneers of a new world. . . ."
For meeting to discuss questions of religion, nearly all of the seminar's 36 Christian members have been harassed, beaten, or imprisoned since 1978. Its last remaining free leader, Lev Regelson, was arrested recently, reports Keston College, the Center for the Study of Religion and Communism, in Kent, England.
In the light of these and other tough, new crackdowns, Amnesty International announced Jan. 15 the heightening of its own Soviet rights monitoring campaign.
The London-based rights monitoring network claims that more than 40 key Soviet activists were arrested or sentenced harshly in the past three months for nonviolent exercise of human rights.
The diversity of arrests and sentencing reveals the scope of this crackdown -- arrest of the prominent rights campaigner of the Helsinki rights monitoring group in Moscow, Tatyana Velikanova; arrest of the founder of the Moscow Christian Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, Orthodox clergyan Gleb Yakunin; sentencing the Ukarainian writer Yuri Badzyo to 12 years for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda"; sentencing of Baptists Ivan Kirilijuk and Vyacheslav Zayats to 12 and 10 years, Respectively, for what Amnesty calls "criminal charges ostensibly unrelated to their religious activity"; confinement of Anatoly Poznyakov, a member of an independent trade union, to a special psychiatric hospital; the arrest of Reshat Dzhemilev, a Crimean Tartar-rights activist.
Keston College attributes the clampdown on Soviet Christians partly to a lapse of Western attention to them due to the Iran crisis.
To encourage release of prisoners of conscience, Amnesty addressed an open letter to Soviet President Leonid Brzhnev in October emphasizing international concern over human rights violations in the USSR.So far the result has been a heightened countrywide crackdown.
Since the letter, the Soviet government decreed an amnesty to mark the International Year of the Child. But no political prisoners are known to have been released under it.