A series of tough new prosecutions of Christian dissidents in the Soviet Union appears to be part of the Kremlin's concerted effort to clear out dissidents before the summer Olympic Games in Moscow, according to human-rights analysts in the West.
Moscow's preparations for the 1980 summer Olumpic Games have not given Christians any cause to celebrate says Giorgi Vins, exiled Soviet Baptist pastor who directs a Christian rights monitoring organization based in South Bend, Indiana.
"For Christians it means new suffering for their faith, because the KGB is strengthening its forces for that particular time."
Behind Mr. Vin's concern are reports reaching the West of a stream of prison sentences given Russian Christians, particularly a group of young, newly converted Orthodox intellectuals who have been holding regular seminars in Moscow and leningrad.
Most of the 36 members of the Christian Seminar on Problems of the Religious Renaissance have been harassed or arrested since last fall. Five have just been sentenced to terms in labor camps, according to reports reaching to Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism (Keston College) in Kent, England.
One of the founders of the seminar, Vladimir Poresh, a philologist, was sentenced to five years in a labor camp and three years' exile on charges of anti-Soviet agitation.
Two seminar members, Vladimir Burtsev and Viktor Popkov, were sentenced to 18 months in labor camps. Although charges of "parasitism" and "resisting the militia" were dropped before their trial in Smolensk, the city's paper included these charges in its report of crimes for which they were sentenced.
Dr. Tatyana Shchipkova, mother of a seminar member and former chemistry professor at the Smolensk Institute, was also sentence to 4 1/2 years in a labor camp for "malicious hooliganism." Mrs. Shchipkova's doctorate was revoked after she started attending seminars and resisted search by police.
More trials are expected. Those under arrest include Dmitri Dudko and Gleb Yakunin, both leading Russian Orthodox clergymen who have attracted many young Russians to Christianity.
Concerned over crackdowns on dissidents, Amnesty International, the London-based human-rights organization, has launched a major new drive to monitor and publicize the Soviet rights situation.
The crackdowns brought Alexander Solzhenitsyn out of his self-imposed isolation in Vermont to lash out with jeremaids on behalf of the young Christians.
"With all their totalitarian power communists are now trying to squirm out of admitting that they are persecuting and burning out belief in God," he told Freedom House in New York. "Communist leaders still have sufficient power to seize people, even continents, but they lack the courage to look people straight in the eye."
The latest sentences climax a much broader wave of arrests since the beginning of the year, says the Rev. Mr. Vins, whose rights-monitoring network extends to West Germany, the Netherlands, and Australia.
Persecution of unregistered Baptists in Moscow, Leningrad, Estonia, and some parts of the Ukraine and Moldavia have increased considerably since January, he says.