Soviet Baptist leader Georgi P. Vins, 46, was sentenced last month during a closed trial in Kiev, Ukraine, to five years in prison and five years of exile, He was found guilty of using religion to cloak illegal activities. The charges lodged against him (see December 20, 1974, issue, page 26) were recognized by church leaders around the world to be the kind Soviet authorities have used repeatedly to harass believers.
News of the verdict reached the West through Andrei D. Sakharov, the dissident Soviet physicist who has been speaking out about violations of human rights in his land. Vins was not represented by a lawyer at the five-day trial, said Sakharov. The clergyman reportedly rejected a court-appointed attorney on the grounds that an atheist was not qualified to handle a case involving religious matters.
Earlier, Sakharov and several Soviet Christians had written to the World Council of Churches on Vins’s behalf, requesting a Christian lawyer from the West to represent him. WCC president Philip A. Potter wrote to Soviet authorities, asking for the text of the indictment against Vins and for provision of a Christian attorney to represent him. The Soviets did not reply to Potter’s letter. On January 30 Potter and the WCC’s top officers issued a statement urging the Soviet government to “contribute toward international understanding” by permitting a WCC legal observer to attend the trial. Again, the Soviets did not respond. It was already too late: Vins was convicted and sentenced the next day.
It is believed to be the first time the WCC has publicly confronted the Kremlin in a case involving persecution of Baptist leaders. “We have reason to believe … that the charges against Mr. Vins are made primarily because of his religious ...1
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