4 Christian Community Leaders, Demonstrating on Behalf of Soviet Jewry Convicted of Violating Statut

Four more Soviet Jewry activists–this time Christian community leaders–were convicted last Thursday of violating a District of Columbia statute by demonstrating in front of an Embassy.

In what has become a virtual ritual since the trials of protestors arrested at the Soviet Embassy began last December, the judge handed down a 15-day suspended prison sentence, six months’ probation and a $50 fine. But he agreed, as he did in another hearing last month, to postpone the sentences pending appeal.

The four demonstrators convicted last week included a Catholic priest, a Lutheran minister and two lay leaders. For the Rev. John Steinbruck, the Lutheran minister, it was the second conviction since December, when he was given the same sentence for participating in a similar rally last May.

ARRESTED IN DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES

Over 130 people–including rabbis, cantors and Jewish community leaders–have been arrested in the seven arrest protests to date. The four convicted Thursday, however, were arrested in somewhat different circumstances than the others who have participated in Embassy demonstrations.

The arrest took place on Yom Kippur, and the four had volunteered, as they and others in the Christian community have done for years on Jewish holidays, to conduct the 15-year-old daily vigil for Soviet Jewry across the street from the Embassy.

Only Steinbruck had come with the intention of getting arrested. But the police suddenly moved in and arrested all three for carrying protest placards in an Embassy area.

Attorney Frank Campbell, who, like the lawyers for the other groups of demonstrators, has taken the case without fee, argued that the charges should be dropped because no warning had been given to disperse and because the placards were not of a nature that would violate the District statute.

But once presiding Judge Joseph Hannon rejected those arguments, Campbell presented the same defense as that put forward in the previous hearings–that the protestors had a moral imperative to violate the statute in an effort to aid victims of Soviet persecution.

Again, the judge rejected the defense and consequently refused to hear any testimony. But he did accept a written account of what the proposed witnesses would have said, not only about Soviet persecution of Jews, but of Christians as well.

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