The People’s Supreme Court in Ho Chi Minh City have decided to hear the appeals of Reverend Nyugen Hong Quang and evangelist Pham Ngoc Thah of the Vietnam Mennonite Church. The two men were arrested and sentenced along with six Mennonites in March of last year under charges of “resisting persons doing official duty.” Of the six who were arrested, both Reverend Nyugen and Pham have received the toughest sentences, respectively receiving three-year and two-year prison sentences. The court date for the appeal has been set for February 2, 2005.
According to Christian persecution monitor Voices of Martyrs, the two men along with six Mennonite workers were rounded up in a series of police raids last year. Government sources claimed that the objective of the police raids was to put an end to allegedly “illegal religious activity,” and therefore legitimate in nature.
Reverend Nyugen has reportedly been an outspoken figure for religious freedom. In a statement released by Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), Nyugen had led a sit-in in December 2003 at a police station in Ho Chi Minh City along with several other Christians. The individuals were protesting the arrest of 19 Vietnamese Christians for distributing religious pamphlets at the SEA Games in the city. According to various religious freedom monitors, Reverend Nyugen’s arrests along with several other associates signify an attempt from the government to stamp clamp down on the reverend’s activities.
In a statement released by the Mennonite World Council, all six Mennonites have reportedly received severe treatment and abuse under the Vietnamese prison authorities. According to MWC reports, brothers Nyugen Huu Nghia, age 24, and Nyugen Thanh Nhan were amongst those rounded up in the March police raid. Since their release from prison, both brothers have reported being battered by correction officials and fellow inmates – whom were allegedly rewarded food and cigarettes for their involvement in the beatings.
“Both men reported savage beatings and kicking over all parts of their bodies from the moment of their arrests,” MWC said in a statement issued last week. “The abuse often continued until they fainted or lapsed into convulsions. Splashes of cold water revived them, and the beatings continued. They were denied adequate food and water and did not receive the warm clothes their families brought for them.”
“The men also suffered humiliation and pain from verbal abuse and from being forced to squat motionless in tight places for long periods of time with only their toes touching the ground,” MWC added. “They were not given sleeping mats, but were forced to lie on the rough cement floor.”
MWC also claimed that the two brothers, after being battered to exhaustion, were often given documents to sign, implicating Reverend Nyugen. Though the brothers refused, officials would forge their signatures, said MWC. In the course of their incarceration, both brothers have reportedly been moved to three different prisons, and were repeatedly beaten at each stop.
An earlier request for an appeal on the behalf of Miss Le Thi Hong Lien, the sole woman rounded up in the arrests, was rejected. Sources say that Miss Le suffered from a mental-breakdown due to the treatment she faced in prison, and was consequently considered unfit to stand trial. Miss Le’s case stands amidst allegations that she was subjected to mind-alteration drugs, sleep-deprivation, and beatings in the course of her interrogation and subsequent imprisonment. So far, government sources have not released any statements in regards to this matter. Miss Le’s prison sentence is due to end June 30 of this year.