Four Hmong Christians Sentenced To Prison After Praying In Worship Service

( [email protected] ) May 19, 2004 07:43 AM EDT

Four Hmong Christians who organized and led weekly worship services in a house church in Vietnam’s remote province of Ha Giang have now been officially sentenced for “disturbing public order.” According to information recently obtained by Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom May 18, the four Hmong Christians were sentenced to terms of 26 to 36 months.

The Center for Religious Freedom obtained a copy of a lengthy document of accusations against them that described meetings of 50 or 60 people taking place over six consecutive Sundays. The men, arrested in November and December of 2003, are among the ten “forgotten” Christians whom Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom had urged for the immediate release of in April of this year. All are residents of Giap Trung Village, Thang Tin Commune, Ha Giang province, which has become the scene of an intensified anti-Christian campaign by Vietnamese officials. They are now being held under harsh conditions of imprisonment.

Letters from the families describe the prisoners’ hardships and make an urgent appeal for help, especially on behalf of the young children.

The Center for Religious Freedom has obtained three additional letters written in March by Hmong Christians living in Xin Man District, also located in Ha Giang province. These letters detail the confiscation of Vietnamese Bibles, an electronic keyboard, numerous personal effects, and cash. The authors describe being threatened with fines unless they agree to abandon Christianity and reestablish an altar to their ancestors.

Due to international pressure, Vietnamese authorities have recently begun to avoid referring to Christianity when making charges against believers, using the term "illegal religion" instead. The government recognizes as legitimate only Christians who were believers before the 1954 communist revolution.

Center director Nina Shea describes persecuted Hmong Christians as "truly forgotten people, living up in the highlands, speaking their own language, and lacking influential contacts in the outside world.” Hmong Christians, she observes, “are twice victims, both as Christians and as members of a disfavored minority.”

The Center reported last month that the Vietnamese military had used drug injections in Lai Chau province to pressure Hmong Christians to sign statements recanting their faith. And last November, the Center described the extradition of a key Hmong church leader, Ma Van Bay, from the southern province of Binh Phuoc. A trial in his case was announced for April 28, although the charges are not known.