The way prisoners of conscience in other countries are treated seems far removed from the lives of most American Christians. As U.S. citizens, we do not live in fear of illegal abductions, arbitrary arrests, brutal interrogations, forced confessions, torturous prison conditions, and harsh sentences. Yet faithful disciples of the most famous “prisoner of conscience” in the history of mankind should know that the Word of God calls them to speak, pray, and act on behalf of persons whose rights are violated by regimes of the right or the left. The psalmist expressed the faith needed for our times: “Lord, I know that you defend the cause of the poor and rights of the needy” (Psalm 140:12, TEV).

While newspapers and television document cases of a few famous persons subjected to sudden arrests, one-sided trials, and long sentences, American Christians should not forget that there are literally thousands of others who receive no publicity in the outside world. Only a few groups such as churches or voluntary organizations like Amnesty International make the effort to stay informed about imprisoned men and women who are not famous scientists, writers, or dissidents. The 1977 report of the latter group lists more than one hundred nations where human rights violations occurred in that year. Here are a few names of forgotten people who represent many who suffer similar fates:

Heinz Reineke, a thirty-seven-year-old sculptor in East Germany, once belonged to the ruling Communist party there, but he soon became disillusioned. Last year he wrote an open letter challenging Erich Honecker, the head of state, for failing to live up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Reineke was quickly ...

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