Five rabbis who chose to go to jail to protest the treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union reported to the federal prison in Petersburg, Va., yesterday morning, proclaiming "we will never be silent" about the problems of Soviet Jews.
The five, who were convicted of violating a federal law by demonstrating in May outside the Soviet Embassy, issued a statement urging that attention not be focused "on us or our families or our conditions" in prison. Instead, they asked that attention be given "our oppressed brethren in Soviet jails, their families, and on the unbearable conditions of Soviet Jews who seek to live in freedom."
Going to jail, the rabbis said, "will be worthwhile only if it will generate awareness and action on behalf of prisoners of conscience languishing in Soviet prisons."
The five were among 24 rabbis and a Lutheran pastor arrested May 1 for violating the law against congregating within 500 feet of an embassy. But they rejected the sentences, handed down Thursday in D.C. Superior Court, of $50 fines, six months of unsupervised probation and 15-day suspended jail terms.
Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.) has urged President Reagan to pardon the five rabbis. He called the sentences "unusually harsh" for the crime involved and Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's refusal to postpone the jailings "an outrage" in light of the government's refusal to prosecute protesters arrested outside the South African Embassy.
The national membership organizations of both Reform and Conservative rabbis, representing the majority of rabbis in this country, also have petitioned for a presidential pardon for all who have been "sentenced for this act of human rights."
In a related development, the D.C.-Maryland chapter of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith has agreed to underwrite the defense of all those arrested in the series of anti-Soviet protests. Nearly 90 protesters have yet to be tried. In addition, the attorney for 44 demonstrators already found guilty filed appeals of their convictions yesterday.
Helene Karpa, president of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, issued a statement of support yesterday for the jailed rabbis.