April 15, 2014 (Morning Star News) – Inciting social hostility appears to have become a key way government officials in rural Vietnam try to contain, or at least slow, the growth of Christianity among ethnic minorities, sources said.
Ethnic Hmong Christians were the targets of two incidents the past two months in Vietnam’s northwest. Village officials in Son La Province dragged a couple from their home in late March, and the previous month authorities in neighboring Dien Bien Province incited a mob to beat a Christian family – including a 9-year-old girl – and drive them from the village.
In the latter case in Dien Bien Dong District, Public Security officers Hang Da Sinh and Cu Ninh Vang recruited some 30 villagers of Trun Phu Village, Na Song Commune, to accompany them to the home of Hang A Khua the evening of Feb. 26, according to Khua. Backed by an intimidating mob, the officers ordered Khua and his family of nine to recant their Christian faith and immediately and publicly signify their sincerity by re-establishing a family altar and worshipping their ancestors.
Khua refused, and the two officers ordered the accompanying villagers to attack the family. They did so vehemently, swinging short lengths of electrical cable at both adults and children, Khua reported in a petition to international human rights organizations and the United Nations. The parents sustained large welts and bruises, as did their 9-year-old daughter, Hang Thi Dia.
Next, officers Sinh and Vang told the crowd to ransack the house. They took some valuable legal papers, including eight birth certificates and health insurance policies, as well foodstuffs, including 10 large sacks of paddy rice, Khua said. They announced the confiscation of the family’s rice fields, drove them out of their house and proceeded to smash and demolish it. Cell phone photos of their injuries accompanied the petition.
Finally, after three hours of such abuse, the officers announced that the family was permanently expelled from Dien Bien Dong District and incited the mob to chase them away.
“Today my family is living in the forest without a place to call home,” Khua wrote in the April 2 report, “and day after day we do not know how we will live or where we will end up … please rescue my family!”
The tragic incident took place in a region noted for ongoing violence against Christians.
Khua believes the orders come from high officials; he cited the Communist Party and the Central Government of Vietnam as having “given permission” to Dien Bien District authorities (Vang Tong Cu, chair of the district people’s committee, and Thao A Thua, deputy district police chief) “to order” their public security officers to attack his family.
In adjacent Son La Province, in Phu Yen District, area Christian Thao A Say reported four Hmong Christian families in March were similarly threatened. The four families’ formal affiliation with the legally-recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam-North (ECVN-N), and their respectful notification of local officials of their conversion, did not spare them; commune officials told them that Christianity did not exist in their village of Suoi Cu.
“You cannot believe in Christ – if you do, you and the other three families who do must leave this village!” the chairman of the People’s Committee of Huy Tan Commune, identified only as Mr. Tuyen, told them, according to a report Say wrote to provincial and district officials and to the ECVN-N.
Fellow villagers, incited by authorities, threatened to destroy the Christians’ homes and kill them unless they recanted.
On March 25 at 10 a.m., two men named Thao A Chu and Thao A Tung barged into Say’s home while he and his wife were taking a noon rest. The two men picked up chairs and began beating the couple, kicking and punching them, according to Say. They dragged his wife, Vang Thi Mua, out to their yard by her hair.
In his report, Say asked if being a Christian in Vietnam really meant one should be mistreated in this way and considered less than an animal.
“Please allow us to practice our faith in peace, like the law says,” he concluded.
In another long-running battle in southern Vietnam’s Binh Phuoc Province, where ethnic minority Stieng Christians make up a large part of the population, authorities are still trying hard to force the highly inconvenient consolidation of long established congregations and suppress the use of the crosses on church buildings. These churches belong to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam-South, legally recognized since 2001.
Decree 92, an amended regulation on church registration which came into effect on Jan. 1, 2013, was supposed to “clear up and smooth the process,” according to the government. Instead, many house-church leaders say, it has further slowed church registration.
One Hanoi house-church leader of a growing movement reports only his Hanoi congregations have been granted first-step registration to operate. Applications for seven more congregations to operate in six other provinces and cities have either been denied or did not even receive a reply.
One official of the Committee of Religious Affairs (CRA) told the church leader that many provinces still did not have a church registration policy. If true, it says little good about the decade-long, well-publicized CRA efforts to educate local officials about improved religious freedom policies.
Progress on religious freedom in Vietnam, at least in rural areas, has clearly flat-lined.
Photo: Hang Thi Dia, 9, after whipping with electrical cable. (Morning Star News)