Several members of a small Pentecostalist community in the Soviet Far East have been put on trial recently on charges that stem from their defiance of Soviet laws on religion and education.
According to reports reaching Moscow, the pastor of the community, Viktor Walter, 34, was sentenced April 9 to five years in a labor camp after he was convicted of violating laws regulating the separation of church and school, of anti-Soviet slander and conducting illegal religious services.
Walter's conviction at the end of a week-long open trial came after eight families in the 170-member community decided last winter to take their children out of Soviet schools where, they said, they were victimized both because of their religion and their German background.
The community of ethnic Germans had moved to the town of Chuguyevka, near Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan, from central Asia several years ago to get away from what they said was religious harassment.
Since then, they have applied to emigrate to West Germany, joining the estimated 130,000 ethnic Germans within the Soviet Union now trying to leave to join relatives in the West.
Most of the Germans, whose families have lived in Russia for several generations, now live in central Asia where they were moved during World War II.
The number of ethnic Germans getting visas to leave has been steadily declining this year, although there was a slight trend upward in April.
The peak year in German emigration was in 1976, when 9,626 left. Last year the number was 864.
Last week, a member of the Chuguyevka community burst into the West German Embassy, seeking help in his effort to emigrate.
He left the embassy the same day, apparently with assurances that his case and others from the community will be pursued diplomatically.
Meanwhile, according to the reports, problems for Pentecostalists in Chuguyevka have increased. After Walter's conviction, another eight leaders of the community were expected to stand trial April 23, on charges stemming from their participation in a demonstration Dec. 27 protesting Walter's arrest two weeks earlier.
No word has reached Moscow on the outcome of the April 23 trial.
In Feburary, three community members were convicted of not having proper documents. One was sentenced to one year, while the other two were tried again on the separate charges of participating in the demonstration.
The entire group had sent their Soviet passports to Moscow in 1984, when they made their second application to emigrate.
Three times since September 1983, the group has gone on a mass month-long hunger strike. The last was in February of this year, while the first trial was taking place.
Since the beginning of this year, no member of the community has had a job. The group lives on livestock and food they have raised themselves, and whatever they can earn from selling milk and produce, according to its members.
Members of the community now fear that more charges will be brought against them. After they took 27 of their children out of school, their homes were searched, and Bibles and pictures were seized.
The Pentecostalists in Chuguyevka have not registered as such with the government, which puts their church in a precarious position with Soviet authorities. The estimated number of Pentecostalists in the Soviet Union ranges from 125,000 to 300,000, of whom 33,000 have registered with the state.