In an appeal last week to the Government of Vietnam, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom protested the continued imprisonment of ten Hmong Christians who have been imprisoned for their beliefs in Vietnam. The Center is requesting for their immediate release, along with the immediate release of other religious prisoners.
In particular the Center’s appeal focuses on ten “forgotten” Christians whose names are not well known outside their home communities in northwest Vietnam’s Lai Chau and Ha Giang Provinces. The Hmong prisoners on the Center’s list have been charged with vague or catchall offenses such as “disturbing public order,” “taking advantage of religion to take money from people,” and “resisting a police officer doing his duty.” These highly adjustable charges have commonly been used by Hanoi over the decades to win criminal cases against religious believers. The Hmong Christians who have been handed sentences serve prison terms ranging from 18 months to 12 years.
One of the Hmong prisoners on the Center’s list is Mua Say So, the brother of Mua Bua Senh who was beaten to death by provincial and district public security police in Lai Chau Province in August 2002, as reported by the Center at that time. Mua Say So had sent open petitions to government officials seeking justice in the case of his brother. Instead, in April 2003, the government sentenced Mua Say So to three years for the murder of his brother and for casting false accusation against the police.
Others among the prisoners are Vang Chin Sang, Vang My Ly, Ly Xin Quang, Ly Chin Sang and a fifth unnamed person, who were arrested in November and December of 2003 for disturbing public order in Ha Giang Province. The “Accusation” document that has been prepared for their case reportedly provides evidence that they “met weekly with 50 to 60 people for six consecutive weeks.” The five are petitioning that Vietnam’s constitutional provision of religious freedom be respected in their cases because they were meeting for Christian worship.
The Center reported that these arrests are part of a wave of anti-Christian persecution underway in the Hmong areas of Vietnam. Earlier this month, it was reported that the Vietnamese military in the Lai Chau Province has used drug injections as part of its campaign to pressure Hmong Christians to sign statements recanting their faith.
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom stated, “As long as Hanoi sanctions despotism against religious belief – as evidenced by these and other cases of imprisonment – Vietnam cannot be a citizen of the international community of democracies and should be considered among the worst repressors of religious freedom in the world.”
Shea added, “These Hmong Christians are among the poorest and most marginalized people in the country and Hanoi mistakenly believes it can get away with torture, deprivation, cruelty and, in some cases quite literally, murder.”
Due to international pressure, Vietnamese rarely refer to Christianity when discussing charges against religious believers in public. Rather, they use the term “illegal religion.” The Hmong in these provinces converted to Christianity after 1954 when French rule ended and Communist forces under Ho Chi Minh took control of the North. Currently, the government only recognizes Christians as those who believed prior to the revolution.
The Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom is urging the United States government to cite Vietnam on its list of “Countries of Particular Concern” for “egregious, systematic, and ongoing religious persecution.”