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Massive Crackdown Against Vietnam's Highland Christians

Friday, May 11, 2001 | Tag Cloud

The Attacks Have Been Widespread and Often Brutal
Special to Compass Direct
May 11, 2001

HO CHI MINH, Vietnam (Compass) -- There has been a long history of persecution of minority Christians in Vietnam's Western Highlands, where churches have largely had to operate underground since the communist takeover in 1975.

Recently, following significant demonstrations of discontent beginning in February, there has been a marked increase in the ongoing harassment and persecution of minority Christians. The demonstrations were caused by the persecution of Christians and by the loss of tribal lands to lowland Vietnamese settlers who have come to cash in on the coffee boom.

There is evidence that some of the demonstrations were instigated by U.S.-based exiled minorities involved in a movement called "Dega." The Dega, whose leaders influenced a small number of Christians, some of whom also demanded independence for the minority peoples, have earned the wrath of Vietnamese authorities.

Immediately after the demonstrations, the authorities admitted the legitimacy of the land grievances but denied religious factors. But their attitude changed when they discovered the Dega political dimensions of the events and have since targeted all Christians.

The result is a massive crackdown on minority Christians in the highlands.

Government propaganda says that the Protestant faith is American and is uniformly secessionist. There are an estimated 500,000 Protestants and 200,000 Roman Catholics in the Western Highlands. The majority of the Protestants are related to the southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECVN), which was granted legal recognition in April. But the minority Christians do not enjoy any benefits from the ECVN recognition.

The crackdown has been widespread and, at times, brutal. Protestants report that up to 20 leaders of local congregations have been abducted by security forces in Dak Lak province. Many more are reported incarcerated or missing in Gia Lai province.

In one example, two leaders were abducted in early February in Dak Lak province. They are Ama Ger and Ama Bion. Although their families were allowed to bring food for them to the main "re-education" center in Buon Ma Thuot during the fourth week in April, they were not allowed to meet the prisoners, and the families are not even convinced the two men are alive.

The minority people also believe that the mysterious spreading of a white poison powder in schools and other places likely to affect children is state sponsored. These poisonings have been widely reported in the local and international media.

During the fourth week in April, a five-year-old Ede boy who lived very near to Buon Ma Thuot died within hours of picking up a banknote with white powder on it. He developed serious vomiting and diarrhea and convulsions. In another incident, several young Vietnamese men were reported arrested after fleeing from a school where this powder was found, but they were quickly released without explanation.

The campaign against Christians has spread far beyond Gia Lai and Dak Lak provinces where the February demonstrations were centered. The following incidents were reported in late April by sources from the highland areas. Those minority groups affected by the crackdown include Ede, Jerai, Mnong, Sedang, Pacoh, Hre, Hroi, Koho, Roglai, and Steing.

PERSECUTION IN THE HIGHLANDS

1. The church at Phu Nhon (Pleiku) was meeting on March 25 when security police burst into the service and demanded that all present who were not from the immediate village identify themselves. Many were from nearby villages. They were fined 50,000 dong each and told to return home.

As the people were on the road home, thugs ordered by the security police beat up the church treasurer, Mr. Nguyen Phuc. They also beat two young minority women who were school teachers with the family name H'Lan. The thugs punched the two women and shouted, "This is the Christian gang! Let's just beat them until they are dead." The two women fled into a nearby house for refuge, but the owner chased them out fearing he would be the victim of reprisal if he helped them.

After this incident, many Christians have been afraid to meet for worship. The police also warned Pastor Le Phuong Thanh not to hold any more church services.

2. In March, the authorities organized some 20 cadres to visit the villages of Wy Ngeo, Dak Tran, Roma (in Konplong district of Kontum province) where there are minority Christians, and ordered the people to gather. The cadres told the people to abandon their Christian faith. They also ordered the Christians to find and prepare a pig, 50 chickens, 50 liters of local liquor and rice to feed them all for three days. They threatened that if people refused to give up their faith, they would remain there and force the Christians to feed them until they had nothing left to eat.

3. The church at Kuk Rung, in Ayunpa district, Pleiku, under the care of pastor Rmah Blum, was meeting on March 8 when security police burst into the service and seized a Bible, two Christian songbooks and a guitar.

4. On April 8 at the Xom Go Church (Son Thanh commune, Son Ha district, Quang Ngai province), three local cadre and other people, wielding machetes, came to the house of Dinh Dop, a Christian believer of the Hre minority. They shouted, "You jerk! You follow the American religion, the religion that is out to destroy the revolution. This hamlet is a hamlet of revolutionary heroes. If you want to follow the American religion, we won't let you live here any more!"

With that they picked up all the family belongings and dumped them in a pile outside Dop's house. The whole family was very frightened and ran into a nearby sugar cane field.

Eventually, they went to the home of a Christian in Son Ha district. Pastor Dinh Tan Vinh reported this incident to the security police. Three days later, the security police accompanied the family back to their home and announced, "Pastor Vinh and the family of Dop have accused the authorities of this action against them. Government officials would never do such a thing."

5. On March 14, the elder of a Bru village called Miet Village (in Huong Hoa district, Quang Tri province) and government officials called the Christians together and announced, "Christianity is a counter-revolutionary movement that incites demonstrations and causes divisions among minority peoples. Those who are not participants in the counter-revolutionary movement must contribute to a ritual buffalo sacrifice to the village spirit." The Christians refused to fall for this trap and would not participate in the sacrifice.

On March 22, the chairman of the communes Fatherland Front, along with a number of local cadre, came to the house of a church leader named Ho Van O. They brought liquor and demanded that Mr. O provide glasses and snacks for a drinking party. Mr. O refused because he considered his house a sacred place to worship God. Although he declined to provide what they ordered, he said he would give them a meal, which he did. After the meal, the vice-chairman of the district became dizzy and fell, breaking his arm.

6. A Bru Christian of Hut Rong Church (Huong Hoa district, Quang Tri province) became ill with a stomach ailment that required surgery. He asked for the perfunctory introduction paper from his commune for the surgery to be provided free of charge. But the commune committee treated him contemptuously and chased him off saying, "We will not provide help for a Christian."

A church elder, Mr. Ho Phay, formerly a Communist Party member, interceded, and eventually the required introduction was given to the Provincial Minorities Committee. The Christian went to the province center and again was refused. He was told they would not help Christians. Elder Ho Phay again had to intercede before they would provide him the paper for surgery without fee. This is the kind of discrimination Christians constantly face.

7. Many Bru Christians in Khe Sanh have had the experience of having their non-Christian neighbors' cattle driven into their rice fields and destroying them. They are told, "You say you have the Lord. Let the Lord provide for your needs!" When the Christians complain to the authorities, they do nothing about it. So the Christians are already beginning to go hungry.

8. The local government officials are providing relief supplies for the minority people in K'Dong near Son Mua (Son Tay district, Quang Ngai province). Christians are systematically excluded from the distributions.

9. The authorities have organized a large program called, "Returning to Our Cultural Roots: Conserving our Minority Ways," all over the highland region. This includes the sacrifice of buffalo and the drinking of powerful local liquor. Those who refuse to participate are accused of causing division, betraying their tribe and of following things foreign. People who refuse are restricted in many ways, and this has caused all kinds of hardships.

For example, in Minh Long district of Quang Ngai, Christian households are not allowed to connect to the electric power and are not allowed to use the public irrigation canals. They have also had their land confiscated, their church torn down and their tools and implements destroyed.

10. In Tan Lap village, where there is a newly established church (Son Minh district, Phu Yen province), a security policeman named Kpa Y Nong previously studied at the Communist Party school in Hanoi with Nay Y Min, a former Party member whose entire family converted to Christianity in February. Kpa Y Nomg tried but failed to dissuade Nay Y Min from believing in Christianity. So he hit and elbowed him in the side very hard, but Nay Y Min still steadfastly refused to deny his faith.

11. In a new church serving Son Hinh and Son Hoa districts, security police of Phu Yen province and Son Hinh districts called together the Ede and Hre minorities and said, "If anyone follows the Christian religion, the security police will imprison them because the Christian religion is a counter-revolutionary religion causing many problems, such as the recent demonstrations in the highlands."

12. On the morning of March 20, a cadre named Y Son went to the house of a Christian named Kpa Y Ring. When the cadre found that the owner was not home, he scaled the wall and ransacked the house, making off with two Christian songbooks.

13. A man who is a Christian lay worker went to try to register his family. The security police told him he could not identify himself as a Christian. They said they didn't care if he was a believer in his heart, but he should not be public about it. But Ksor Ho insisted and finally was allowed to put "Christian" on the religion line of his identity card.

14. In a new church in Minh Long district, Quang Ngai province, the local officials clearly discriminate against Christians of the Hre minority. They refuse to let them connect to the public electricity line. The Christians have written a petition but have not received a reply. When the Christians hook up to a neighbor's line, the authorities come and cut it. The Christians have appealed to higher authorities.

15. Ede lay workers such as Ama Oanh, Ama Khanh and Ama Wi at Khanh Duong, Dak Lak province, have been frequently interrogated by commune officials. The officials accuse them of being "Dega Christians." They are not allowed to convene worship services for Christians, and they are told they are not allowed to travel around to visit Christians and are constantly threatened with prison. These workers insist to the authorities that they are legitimate religious workers, and they carry on normally as much as possible, in spite of the threats.

16. Minority Christians in Son Hinh and Son Nga districts of Phu Yen province and of Minh Long district in Quang Ngai province are systematically excluded from government distribution of money, rice, oil and salt, because, they are told, "Whoever follows the Lord, the Lord will provide." But these Christians remain strong in their faith.

17. In Xa Lanh, Dong Xuan, family heads of some 53 families of the Hroi minority were gathered together for a seminar. They were told that if they denied their Christian faith, they would be given government benefits and be spared public humiliation.

In the end, seven Christians denied their faith and accepted this offer. Security police from the provincial center kept the Christians in a building for two days without giving them food or drink and without allowing them to go to the toilet.

PERSECUTION IN THE NORTHWEST

In addition, a campaign against Hmong Christians in the northwest provinces also continues. Many details of this campaign were revealed in some 54 pages of secret government documents that were passed to human rights workers in June 2000. Eleven pages of government documents acquired in February 2001, some dated as recently as January 2001, prove that this campaign, called "Plan 184" continues in Bao Thang district of Lao Cai province.

Several hundred Christian Hmong families from the northwest provinces have fled south to Dak Lak province since the Lunar New Year in February because of religious persecution, joining thousands who preceded them.

Some who had built simple homes and cleared and planted fields in Dak Lak have had their homes and crops burned by authorities, and have been displaced to less productive lands.

Nevertheless, the Vietnamese government continues to insist it does nothing to hinder religious faith and practice in Vietnam.

Copyright © 2001 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.

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