Provincial Hre believers are still harassed, contrary to government's public face.
Special to Compass Direct
HANOI, September 19 (Compass) — Authorities in the Son Ha District of Quang Ngai Province incited a mob to burn down the home of evangelist Dinh Van Hoang on August 21 because he would not sign a paper denying his Christian faith.
Local public security police chief Dinh Van Hoanh and his deputy, Thai Mai Quan, came to Hoang's home on that Sunday morning and told him that Christians were not accepted there. They warned him that he would have to give up his religious faith or face the destruction of his home.
Hoang, as he has done previously, replied that he could not give up his faith.
"Right after, a mob forced its way into my house, destroying a wall," Hoang told Compass. "Once more they demanded that we give up Christianity. My wife and I answered that we would not give up the faith. So they burned our house and all our property."
The mob included war veterans, local defense forces, young people and hamlet chief Dinh Van Xoa, Hoang said. This was the third time Hoang's home has been burned.
Sources in Vietnam also report that on July 26 and 31, authorities in Son Tinh district, Quang Ngai Province, destroyed the homes of 10 ethnic Hre families because they would not give up their Christian faith.
Dinh Tan Vinh, a Hre evangelist with the legally recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South), told of the destroyed homes on Radio Free Asia on August 28. On August 31, Vietnam News Service (VNS) countered with a posting that appeared in a Vietnamese-language newspaper, and, on September 5, in the English language Vietnam News.
In the past Vietnam would dismiss such charges as a "complete fabrication by forces hostile to Vietnam," but the state press quoted the charges in detail and then tried to refute them with falsehoods, according to Hre Christians. For example, the VNS article denied that Vinh was a representative of the "Vietnam Protestant Church (Southern Region)," usually called the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South).
But the President of the ECVN (S), the Rev. Thai Phuoc Truong, confirmed on September 8 that Vinh was an official worker of the church and had wide responsibilities for the Hre churches. He said the government, however, refuses to recognize the Hre congregations and workers that the legally-recognized ECVN (S) says belong to it. Rev. Truong raised these issues with the Protestant section of the Bureau of Religious Affairs in Hanoi during the last week in August without result.
Vietnam News Service also falsely defamed Hoang, stating that he "was not a good citizen and was kicked out of the community several times." Church sources said Hoang is a law-abiding citizen whose commitment to Christianity had prompted local officials to chase him from his home several times with impunity.
The VNS article also stated that Hoang "abused educational limitations of the local ethnic minority groups to preach illegally. He was advised several times not to lure people to blindly believe in nonsense and refuse to work." It added that he "continued to incite people not to work." Hoang's evangelistic work, Hre Christians said, encourages diligent work and meeting social obligations, rather than forbidding them.
The article accused Hoang of not having official residence registration. Hoang has many times applied for official registration but has always been refused because of his Christian beliefs and activities, sources said.
The English-language Vietnam News article falsely accused Hoang of destroying a traditional cemetery. (The Vietnamese version in the same place said his fellow villagers considered him to be "a wild animal.")
"His behavior," the English-language article stated, "tested the patience of the community, forcing them to burn his house."
The official explanation for the destruction of the 10 Christian Hre homes in July purported that new homes in a better location were being prepared for the families, but that they would not move voluntarily. There are no new homes prepared, Hre sources told Compass.
Widespread discrimination and persecution against the Hre has focused on Hoang (also known as Dinh Minh Hoang) since 1999. Between then and 2003, authorites humiliated him in a public "peoples' trial" in which he was mocked and beaten before fellow villagers; imprisoned him without trial; forced him to abandon his home and move his family several times; invaded his home; beat his wife and children; and forced him and his wife to participate in pagan practices, including drinking pig's blood.
Twice previously, officials ordered the burning of his home.
Additionally, Dinh Van Giao and Dinh Van Tru, Hre believers in Son Thuong Commune, reported strong pressure to abandon their Christian faith. When these men refused to write a statement denying their faith on August 15, authorities wrote one and forced the men's hands onto it, leaving their fingerprints on the document.
Such actions against the Hre minority, along with the cover-up by the Vietnam government, come soon after Vietnam's adopted legislative measures supposed to support greater religious freedom.
The number of Hre Christians increased from about 500 in 1991 to around 6,000 in 2005, chiefly in Quang Ngai Province. In recent years persecution has been intense especially in Son Tinh, Son Ha, Minh Long and Ba To districts, which have prided themselves on their revolutionary history.
Copyright 2005 Compass Direct
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