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VIETNAM : Hmong Christians in Vietnam suffering severe persecution

Hmong Christians in Vietnam suffering severe persecution

Federal authorities do nothing as local officials violate religion law.

Morning Star News (25.07.2022) – https://bit.ly/3PTFtel – Severe persecution of Hmong Christians is underway in Nghe An Province in Vietnam.

 

In the central Vietnam province, officials vying with each other to create “Christian-free zones” operate “with no conscience or humanity,” as if they were in a different country than the one whose religious freedom measures they are violating, Christian leaders say.

 

Authorities put immense pressure on animist relatives to drive Christians from their homes, exiling them from family, livelihood and community with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some Christians have been forcibly separated from spouse and children, home and fields, sometimes even their wedding rings, if they persist in their faith. Then officials wash their hands and say these outrages are purely family matters.

 

The only way out is for the offending Christians to recant and revert to the animistic practices of their ancestral religion. Most steadfastly refuse to give up their new-found faith, which they testify has freed them from demonic oppression.

 

More often than individuals, it is entire extended Christian families who are driven from their homes, but earlier this month one mother was separated from caring for her two sons. Though only 33, Lau Y Pa has two teenage sons whom she was unable to contact. When Morning Star News met with her on July 10, wet tissues were piled in front of her as she had just learned that another newly Christian relative, Lay Y Tong, had suffered the same fate.

 

Such suffering, which has been quietly going on for years (especially in Nghe An Province), has hit mainly members of the not-yet-legally recognized Vietnam Good News Mission Church (VNGNMC) and the officially recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam-North (ECVN-N).

 

The VNGNMC connects its victims with congregations and Christians able to shelter them in the provincial capital of Vinh, or in Saigon or Hanoi.

 

Both church organizations report the worst violations of religious liberty are taking place in the Ky Son District communes of Huoi Tu and Na Ngoi. Two extended families of 13 and 19 people in the Na Ngoi commune villages of Khu Kha I and Ka Duoi respectively have been regularly pressured and persecuted since April, when they were officially accepted as members of the government-recognized ECVN-N.

 

Gangs of top local officials and police officers, numbering up to 20, come repeatedly, sometimes in the middle of the night, browbeating and bullying them and threatening worse unless they return to spirit worship. Refusal to recant for these families has meant the seizing of their livestock, crops, fields and farm machinery and tools, the ransacking of their homes and cutting off their electricity. It has resulted even in refusal to let their neighbors charge their cell phones.

 

In the worse cases, villagers are pressured into seizing all the Christians’ property and driving them out of their community. This has happened regularly to ethnic minority families in various parts of northern Vietnam in recent years; such treatment leaves less photographical evidence than beatings but has graver consequences.

 

ECVN-N leaders have appealed to local officials and federal agencies for redress by phone and in writing, pointing out that government officials are breaking specific articles of the national Law on Belief and Religion. Church leaders’ attempts to visit the persecuted have been blocked, and they have received no response from any government agency.

 

The VNGNMC has written and/or phoned the commune, four district level agencies, four provincial level ones, and five federal ones. These appeals cite provisions of Vietnam’s religion law that authorities have broken. Church leaders have received no reply, leading them to believe they have no redress.

 

The VNGNMC also has just reported the case of Vu Ba Sua; because of her faith, officials have refused to register the birth of her baby, now over 2 months old. This makes the child ineligible for social benefits.

 

Sua took the child to the Ky Son hospital for a lung infection but was refused help. The hospital informed her that no Christians in Ky Son District were eligible for any government assistance. Further, because Sua and her husband made it clear they would not give up their faith, officials came to their home and confiscated livestock the government had earlier provided them.

 

Nghe An Province is the birthplace of Ho Chi Minh and thus proudly considered the cradle of the communist revolution. Officials compete for the honor of calling their jurisdiction “a Christian-free zone.”

 

Church leaders have found that they are sometimes better off working out problems quietly with local officials rather than reporting abuses for international exposure and advocacy. At this point, without any response to months of patient and polite requests for redress, the church leaders are left with no choice but to ask for international assistance and pressure. The serious religious liberty abuses in Nghe An Province, completely contrary to Vietnam’s own laws, beg for an international spotlight.

 

It is easy to blame solely recalcitrant local “outlier” officials, but the refusal of any Vietnamese authority to intervene is inexcusable and argues for embarrassing exposure and international accountability.

 

The urgent request of church leaders was, “Please intervene for our persecuted Christians now!”

 

Photo: Evangelical Church in Vietnam. (Steffen Schmitz (Carschten), Wikimedia Commons)

Further reading about FORB in Vietnam on HRWF website





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VIETNAM: Religious freedom group hits out at sentences against Peng Lei members

Vietnam religious freedoms group hits out at sentences against Peng Lei members

Vietnam’s Interfaith Council said sentence was a serious violation of the issue of freedom of religion and belief.

Radio Free Asia (28.07.2022) – https://bit.ly/3Qa9fet – The Vietnam Interfaith Council has lashed out at the harsh sentences given to six members of the Peng Lei Buddhist House.

They were sentenced last week to a combined 23 years and six months in prison on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code.

Police suspended investigations into further allegations of incest and fraud but indicated that other charges may follow.

The council, dedicated to fighting for religious freedom, has members representing five major religions in Vietnam: Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Cao Daism, and Hoa Hao Buddhism.

In a statement, the organization expressed “strong opposition to the unjust and illegal case, which is contrary to the basic principles of international justice.”

At the same time, the group denounced the Vietnamese government for “defying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, depriving the Vietnamese people of basic freedoms, including freedom of religion and speech, freedom of association and the right to a fair trial.”

Thich Khong Tanh, co-chair of the Interfaith Council, explained to RFA why the group released its statement.

“The Interfaith Council has been present in Vietnam for ten years, and its stance has always been to advocate for freedom of religion, belief, and human rights in Vietnam,”.

This [sentence] is a serious violation of the issue of freedom of religion and belief. It is also insulting the dignity of human beings, just as the human rights of the people in Vietnam are not respected.”

During the trial, one of the issues raised by the judge was that the Peng Lei sect refused to register to join the Vietnamese Buddhist Church.

Retreat head Le Tung Van said this was because he feels the Vietnamese Buddhist Church is “unworthy” to participate.

Thich Khong Tanh said the Peng Lei sect has the right to practice Buddhism the way they want, not necessarily by joining the Vietnamese Buddhist church:

“You naturally force people into your circle for you to manage, then how can that be called freedom of belief, freedom of thought, freedom of religion.”

“Vietnamese Buddhism is very diverse, and the practice takes many forms. Because of the Buddha’s teachings, there are forty-eight thousand cultivation methods. So depending on the people, if we can access something taught by the Buddha and if we want to practice, we can all get it.”

Since 2016 Thich Khong Tanh has held the role of Co-Deputy Director of the Executive Council of the Sangha of the Unified Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam, an organization separated from the church dating back to the Republic of Vietnam.

Another member of the Vietnam Interfaith Council, Cao Dai clerk Hua Phi, also told RFA that the statement the organization made to affirm the religious freedom of its members and to denounce the repressive policy of the Vietnamese state was justified:

“We fight for Vietnam to have freedom of religion. No one has the right to force us to follow a religion that we don’t like.”

“Secondly, we find that for these unjust judgments, the online community as well as the activists need to speak up to let the world know that in Vietnam, rulers often impose their own versions of the law and use punishment to deter those who do not obey the will of the authorities.”

He also said that the government initially falsely accused Le Tung Van of committing incest, but later used Article 331 to try to show the nature of this case is to abolish unregistered groups such as Peng Lei sect

On July 26, the leader of Long An Provincial Police said there was not enough evidence to charge Le Tung Van with incest and said he would stop accepting allegations of this crime.

The Interfaith Council also “requested the United Nations Human Rights Agency, international human rights organizations, and liberal and democratic countries around the world to pressure the communist government of Vietnam to respect human rights and comply with international judicial procedures and principles for the Vietnamese people.”

Seventh defendant surrenders to police

Le Thu Van, a seventh defendant in the case, turned herself in to police on Thursday, sources said.

Van, 65 and now suffering from end-stage colon cancer, asked Dang Dinh Manh–one of the defense lawyers for the Peng Lai group– to accompany her to the police station, Manh told RFA

“On the afternoon of July 27, I was informed that Le Thu Van was on the way to my home in Ho Chi Minh City and had asked me to accompany her to a police station,” Manh said.

“At 10:00 p.m. she arrived at my place and informed me of her intention, so I contacted my ward police and asked them to receive her. I also told them about her critical health condition and her need for a medical check-up.”

Police asked Manh to let Van stay at his home overnight and then took her into custody at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday morning.

“They had already contacted Long An police and received confirmation of the warrant for her arrest. The Long An police are now sending a car to pick her up,” Manh added.

Writing on his Facebook page on Thursday evening, Manh said that Van was later released and had returned to the Peng Lai temple in Long An.

The story was updated to include information on the July 28 surrender to police of Le Thu Van, a seventh defendant in the Peng Lai Temple case.

 

Photo: The trial of six members from the Peng Lei Buddhist House in Duc Hoa district, Long An on July 20. RFA

Further reading about FORB in Vietnam on HRWF website





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VIETNAM: Vietnam floats draconian new religion decrees

Vietnam floats draconian new religion decrees

Proposed high fines, shutdowns and onerous regulations submitted for feedback.

Morning Star News (14.06.2022) – https://bit.ly/3ncEmJU – When the “Government of Vietnam” posted two draft religion decrees the first week of June, even ranking staff members of the Government Bureau of Religious Affairs were taken by surprise and encouraged religious leaders to strongly object.

 

The decrees with ancillary documents were posted online for input by government departments and the public. The document dump was 151 pages.

 

One draft decree would take the place of Decree 162/2017, which provided implementation guidelines for the penultimate Law on Belief and Religion (LBR) that went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. After three years, the government authors of the draft decrees admit to shortcomings in the original implementation decree and offer this attempt to fix them. In practice the revisions would only tighten control.

 

Most concerning is a draft decree stipulating remedies and punishments for administrative infractions of the existing LBR and other rules. It is already nicknamed the “Punishment Degree.” The original such draft decree floated three years ago received such a negative response that it was never passed or enforced. The current draft is hardly better.

 

One Vietnamese analyst put it this way: “If you start with something which is very bad at its core, any additions to it can only be bad too.”

 

He referred to Vietnam’s record on human rights, especially religious freedom, internationally known to be very deficient.

 

“Tinkering with the margins will not change the rotten core,” the analyst concluded.

 

In the draft punishment decree, each of the religion regulations and rules comes with an administrative punishment schedule ranging from “warning” to “severe warning,” then to graduated fines up to 30 million VND (US$1,300) for an individual and 60 million VND (US$2,600) for an organization. Beyond that, punishments range up to shutting down a religious organization entirely.

 

Further, those accused of breaking religion rules are warned that they may also be violating criminal codes, putting them in double jeopardy. Article 8 of the punishment decree, for example, says, that if someone disagrees with or disobeys their religious leader, they may also be charged with breaking civil laws such as violating social peace and order, or fire safety codes, etc.

 

There are extremely onerous reporting requirements. All local church activities must be reported and approved a year in advance. Every office address change and reassignment of church staff must be reported within short time limits, or churches would face fines.

 

Mandatory study of Vietnam’s “revolutionary history” and Vietnamese law must be included in all training curriculum for clergy. Punishments include everything up to shutting down the training institutions.

 

Foreigners are limited in their activities with Vietnamese co-religionists. The amount a foreigner puts into an offering plate at a worship service must be reported, as must all financial contributions from abroad.

 

Current regulations, unchanged in the new draft decree on LBR implementation, call for religious organizations to submit detailed bios for all leadership candidates for government preapproval. Only then will the government grant permission to meet in general assembly to vote.

 

In a current case, the Evangelical Church of Vietnam-South (ECVN-S) submitted the names and bios of 257 eligible candidates for about 30 leadership positions to be democratically decided. The government declined to accept one pastor whom they identified as a “troublemaker.”

 

The ECVN-S responded by asking the government “not to interfere in the internal affairs of their legally recognized organization” and advised authorities that if the said pastor were guilty of civil crimes they should go after him by legal means. This conflict now puts the ECVN-S’s long-planned July 2022 quadrennial General Assembly in jeopardy.

 

Three entire chapters of the punishment decree have to with the registration and legal recognition of religious organizations. In one of many head-scratchers, a religious organization that is not yet legally recognized may be fined if it “uses its religious reputation to further its cause.”

 

Very concerning is Article 28 of the proposed replacement decree for Decree 162/2017. It extends all religion regulation to apply also to online meetings and activities, an entirely new phenomenon of the COVID-19 era. Hard to imagine the interference that could cause.

 

Much ink is spilled about things that are “forbidden.” Most significant is the continued reference to nebulous “crimes” such as “taking advantage of belief and religion” or “causing social division” or “violating public morality” or “disturbing social order.” There are no definitions as to what these forbidden things actually mean, leaving them completely open to subjective interpretation.

 

Under such “forbiddens,” it is hard to tell if not worshipping one’s ancestors or venerating national heroes could lead to being classified as violating national morality or being labelled a cult. The “forbiddens” open the way to endless pretexts for accusing people.

 

One Vietnamese leader said of the new draft punishment decree, “It appears to be written with the purpose of encouraging the punishment of individuals and organizations. It’s not even the money fines as much as how this whole wretched system looks under the advertisement of providing more ‘freedom of religion.’”

 

While a few egregious examples are highlighted here, the root problem is that Vietnam puts on full display its embarrassing dogma of having to control all aspects of religion because it is still interpreted as a threatening and dangerous social phenomenon. Clearly, the top level of Vietnam’s extensive security apparatus, which always manages to place its own personnel in key positions in the religion bureaucracy, is behind the proposed measures.

 

Religion authorities in Hanoi invited leaders of non-recognized house churches in northern Vietnam to a June 12-14 seminar to propagandize the new regulations. The government invitation expressed the expectation that “the guidance and propaganda provided by the seminar will win the hearts of house church leaders to complete all the necessary legal documents.”

 

For most house churches, the regulations on religion themselves have made it impossible to apply for legal recognition. Officials have denied or ignored some that have tried to apply. But most house church groups have been reluctant to seek legal recognition because they have observed how the onerous regulations have handicapped legally recognized groups.

 

Said one knowledgeable Vietnamese observer, “If these decrees are passed in their present form, both legally recognized and unrecognized religious organizations will be like a small candle facing a typhoon.”

 

Photo : Congress of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam-South in 2018 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (ECVN-S photo)

 





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VIETNAM: EU must demand end to repression of civil society

EU must demand end to repression of civil society, respect of human rights pledges

FIDH & VCHR (05.04.2022) – https://bit.ly/3ubJAtz – The European Union (EU) must use the upcoming human rights dialogue to demand the Vietnamese government end repression of civil society and fulfill its pledges stemming from the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), FIDH and its member organization Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) urged today. The two organizations made the call ahead of the upcoming EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue, which will be held on 6 April 2022 in Brussels.

“The Vietnamese government’s pledges to uphold democratic freedoms and human rights as an essential element of the free trade agreement with the EU are contradicted by its ongoing repression of civil society. The EU should no longer tolerate Hanoi’s empty promises and use the human rights dialogue and other tools to seek tangible improvements in the human rights situation,” said FIDH Secretary-General Adilur Rahman Khan.

In a new briefing paper released today, FIDH and VCHR detail the government’s relentless crackdown on civil society. Since the last EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue, which was held in February 2020, an alarming escalation of arrests, unfair trials, harsh prison sentences, and physical violence against human rights defenders, bloggers, environmental rights leaders, and members of civil society has continued unabated.

Between 1 January and 31 December 2021, at least 30 people – including three women, activists, government critics, and human rights defenders – were arrested. During the same period, 32 (including seven women) were sentenced to prison terms of up to 15 years.

Nearly all of those who were arbitrarily detained or imprisoned in 2021 were charged under “national security” provisions of the Criminal Code, such as Article 117 (“making, storing or disseminating information, documents, materials and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”) and Article 331 (“abusing democratic freedoms to harm the interests of the state”). Prison sentences imposed were particularly long, with women often receiving some of the harshest jail terms.

 

FIDH and VCHR are particularly concerned over the arrests and convictions of several prominent environmental rights defenders based on their involvement in promoting awareness of EVFTA and the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in advancing sustainable development in Vietnam. Since June 2021, at least four leading environmentalists have been arrested on charges of alleged “tax evasion” (Article 200 of the Criminal Code). These arrests indicate an emerging and disturbing pattern in the use of Vietnam’s tax laws to criminalize environmental leaders, and follows the broader targeting of civil society leaders, as well as shrinking civil society space.

“Civil society input is a crucial component for the implementation of the EVFTA and the Vietnamese government’s targeting of environmental rights defenders flies in the face of Hanoi’s commitments under the agreement. The EU must demand that the Vietnamese government give civil society an unfettered right to monitor and document the implementation of the EVFTA without being subjected to reprisals,” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai.

FIDH and VCHR urge the EU to seriously reconsider the merits of the human rights dialogue, which is portrayed by the Vietnamese government as a demonstration that it fully complies with the country’s human rights obligations. In its current form, the process, which is held behind closed doors and lacks benchmarks, monitoring mechanisms, and follow-up procedures, does not contribute to strengthening human rights in Vietnam.

Press contacts:

 

FIDH: Ms. Eva Canan (French, English) – Tel: +33648059157 (Paris)

VCHR: Ms. Penelope Faulkner (Vietnamese, English, French) – Tel: +33611898681 (Paris)

 

Photo credits: Reuteurs





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VIETNAM: Vietnamese police disrupt Xmas celebration of Montagnard Christians

Vietnamese police disrupt Christmas celebration of Montagnard Christians

Authorities confiscate a banner and beat the church pastor.

Radio Free Asia (29.12.2021) – https://bit.ly/3Jw522g – Authorities harassed about 60 followers of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ as they prepared to celebrate Christmas in Phu Yen province on Vietnam’s south-central coast, confiscating a banner and beating the pastor, members of the church in Ea Lam village said.

The authorities have accused the church of wanting to overthrow the government. though church members deny the allegation.

Police first assaulted and detained Y Cuon Nie, the church’s pastor and a missionary, on Dec. 22 while he was at a printing shop to make the celebratory banners.

“When I was at Viet Long Printers to make a Christmas banner costing 240,000 dong [U.S. $11], they came, confiscated it, and hit me on my back. They took me to the headquarters of Tan Lap town’s police, saying it was not permitted,” he told RFA on Monday.

Authorities, who arrested Nie at 2:30 p.m. that day, did not release him until five hours later, he said.

On Christmas Eve, when Nie and church members were holding a Christmas ceremony in his home, police led by Lieutenant Colonel Dinh Ngoc Dan entered and demanded that they stop.

“At around 10 p.m. Lieutenant Colonel Dinh Ngoc Dan came to my place and said, ‘Stop it all! What are you doing? Who allowed you to do this?’” Nie said. “He shouted. He did not respect the host, and he noisily disrupted our ceremony.”

The police official threatened Nie and took him to the Song Hinh district station for questioning.

When contacted by RFA, the Song Hinh district police denied harassing the members of the church.

“You’d better contact the People’s Committee,” said an officer who did not give his name, referring to the provincial subordinate of the Communist Party of Vietnam.

“We police did not carry out any crackdown at all,” he said. “Not only in Song Hinh district but also in the whole country, our religious policy is very clear and favorable for religious practitioners. If they want to make complaints or petitions, they should write to the [relevant] agencies.”

RFA contacted To Van Giang, chief of staff of Song Hinh district’s Fatherland Front Committee, an umbrella group of mass movements in Vietnam aligned with the country’s Communist Party, but he said he was busy with a meeting. He could not be reached again later in the day.

Vietnam’s constitution mandates protection for religious freedom and states that citizens can follow any religion or none. But it also permits authorities to override rights including religious freedom for purposes of national security, social order, social morality and community well-being.

The country’s Law on Belief and Religion, which went into effect in early 2018, requires religious communities to formally register their organizations and places of worship, though only organizations that have operated for at least five years can apply for registration. Once registered, the organizations are granted status as legal entities.

Nie said that his religious group tried to meet the requirements for registering under the law, but that he had not received any responses from authorities during the past few years.

In the meantime, police had pressured church members to renounce their religion, he said.

RFA reported in January that local authorities from the Ea Lam commune and Song Hinh district forced members of the church to publicly denounce their faith in front of other villagers.

A Dao, a former pastor of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ, was arrested in August 2016 when returning from a conference on East Timorese religious freedom. He was tried and sentenced to five years in prison in neighboring Gia Lai province for helping individuals to escape abroad illegally. In September 2020, he was released to exile in the United States after serving nearly four years in prison.

“Authorities continued to actively persecute independent religious minority communities, including Protestant Hmong and Montagnard Christians, Hoa Hao Buddhists, the Unified Buddhists, Cao Dai followers, Catholics, and Falun Gong practitioners,” said the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom about Vietnam in its annual report issued in April.

“Ethnic minority communities faced especially egregious persecution for the peaceful practice of their faith, including physical assault, banishment, detention, imprisonment, and forced renunciation of faith,” the report said.

By the end of 2020, the Vietnamese government officially recognized 16 religions and 43 religious organizations, although many groups refused to register out of fear of persecution or concern for their independence, the commission said.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

 

Photo: Members of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ are forced to publicly denounce their faith in front of other villagers in Ea Lam commune of Vietnam’s Phu Yen province, Jan. 15, 2020. Photo courtesy of church members

 


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