Vietnam Grants Last-Minute Permit for Christmas Event


Officials present several obstacles to large-scale worship service.

HO CHI MINH CITY, December 29 (CDN) — Granted permission only five hours before a scheduled Christmas event, house church leaders turned an empty field into a rudimentary stadium and welcomed some 20,000 people for a time of worship and evangelism on Sunday (Dec. 26) in Vietnam’s largest city.

The last-minute permission for the event in Ho Chi Minh City reflected the byzantine manner in which authorities have applied Vietnam’s religions laws. The central government’s Bureau of Religious Affairs (BRA) in Hanoi, the body charged with managing religion in communist Vietnam, gave permission for the event to the newly registered Vietnam Assemblies of God (AOG) organization in early December. The Vietnam AOG represents a large grouping of mostly unregistered house churches in the Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship (VEF).

Organizers were grateful for the early permission this year – last year they received only 42 hours notice for an event that 40,000 people attended – but when the AOG superintendent, Pastor Duong Thanh Lam, and other VEF leaders began working out particulars with the Ho Chi Minh City BRA, they met with considerable resistance. After the Ho Chi Minh City BRA finally consented, church leaders said, the organizers found that landlords with potential venues, clearly under pressure, refused to rent them space.

The stand-off lasted until Christmas Day. Meantime, based on the permission from Hanoi, organizers sent invitations to many thousands of Christians in the city and surrounding provinces, and Christians were preparing to come with friends and neighbors to the event, sources said. Some 300 buses, each carrying 60 to 70 passengers, were to bring people from the provinces, they said.

By 11 a.m. on Christmas Day, in spite of official promises, the required permission papers had not yet been granted, church leaders said. Organizers debated whether to push ahead or call off the event – wondering whether communicating word of a cancellation was even possible at that point. Finally at 5 p.m., in an emergency meeting with the city’s ruling People’s Committee, they got a verbal go-ahead and a promise of a written permit.

They said this meant they had only 24 hours to build a perimeter around the field, bring in electricity and water, prepare sanitary facilities, set up chairs, erect a stage, and install the sound and lighting systems.

But the next morning – the Sunday of the planned event – authorities informed organizers that the permission was not for their program but only to provide a place where the buses and people could come so organizers could explain, apologize and send them home, sources said. Organizers said it was another in a series of deeply discouraging betrayals, but that many Christians in Vietnam and worldwide were praying fervently.

Just before noon, a church leader went to the BRA office in a last-ditch attempt to get written permission. He urged officials to think through the possible consequences of many thousands of people arriving in the city for a much anticipated event and finding nothing. Finally at 1 p.m., just five hours before the event was scheduled to start, the BRA issued written permission for a gathering of 5,000 people.

Permission at last in hand, organizers called and text-messaged the many people standing by to help set up to come to the venue in district 12. Sources said they came quickly, like a small army, encountering huge cement culverts and pilings on roads as they approached the venue. These had to be manually removed to allow buses and trucks to enter.

Too late now to set up properly, they said, they did only what was absolutely necessary. They brought in 14,000 chairs on flatbed trucks, and one of the trucks served as the stage. As a backdrop they had time only to put up a large red cross with a white border that, when lit, sources said, stood starkly and powerfully against the night sky.

Crews and volunteers worked feverishly erecting towers and installing sound and lighting systems. Christmas worshippers began arriving in large numbers at 5 p.m., even though people reported authorities had prevented a significant number of buses from embarking on their journey, and that others were intercepted and forced to turn around.

The program began only 30 minutes later than the announced start time of 6 p.m., which organizers regarded as a miracle, and people continued to pour into the venue until well after 7 p.m. while worship music was underway. Those attending enthusiastically participated in loud and joyful praise, and sources cited as especially moving a local choir of hundreds singing “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.”

As they did last year, the Jackson family of six from the United States sang at the rally. The state-controlled media had earlier given ample coverage to the unique sight of the Christian group giving away their CDs in a busy downtown area.

Pastor Ho Tan Khoa was well into his evangelistic message when the lights went out, although sources said that, miraculously, the sound system was not affected. Thousands of people in the crowd opened their cell phones, lighting the darkness with their digital candles. The failure – or cutting – of the electricity did affect the live video broadcast on www.hoithanh.com , but within about 15 minutes power was restored.

After a song and prayer for healing, Pastor Pham Dinh Nhan asked those who wanted to follow Christ to come forward. Hundreds streamed up, and sources said those who arrived first rushed onto the flatbed truck serving as a stage and clung to the large cross. Organizers estimated 2,000 people indicated a first-time decision to follow Christ.

In a fitting closing song, the Jackson family sang both in Vietnamese and English, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Pastor Duong Thanh Lam then graciously thanked the relevant government departments for “recognizing our need to worship” and for “creating the conditions for this event to happen.”

Those who follow religion in Vietnam were puzzled that the government went to such lengths to hinder the gathering. They cited the government lock-out of a scheduled Christmas celebration in Hanoi on Dec. 19 as an example of interference that will also long be remembered (see http://www.compassdirect.org, “Vietnam Authorities Move to Stop Protestant Christmas Events,” Dec. 20).

“It seems Vietnam squandered an excellent public relations opportunity at a time when there are renewed efforts in the U.S. Congress to put Vietnam back on the religious liberty blacklist,” said one long-time observer.

Some Vietnamese church leaders and international observers have said they believe officials have clamped down on Christmas celebrations this year because they were alarmed at the size of last year’s Christmas events.

One church leader told Compass of Directive No. 75 of the Ministry of Interior, an Oct. 15 order that presumably forbids such gatherings. Though no church leader has been shown the directive, an official considered to be sympathetic to Christians told a pastor that the directive orders strict adherence to the Decree on Religion 22. This 2005 decree, the main law governing religion, forbids Christians in unregistered groups from any public gatherings, restricting their religious activity to
single family worship in their household.

In practice, sources said, many house churches have experienced considerably more freedom than that. Last year many unregistered groups were allowed, though reluctantly, to hold large public Christmas gatherings in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

The unregistered house churches are becoming increasingly frustrated. Most have tried to register their congregations according to existing laws but have either been refused or ignored. The freedoms that members of registered churches enjoy are not available for unregistered Christians, sources said, and unregistered Christians are unable to register.

Many speculate that concern over security in the run-up to the January 2011 Party Congress, held every five years, is one reason for the government’s approach. Whatever the reason, all concerned church leaders agreed that the efforts to stop the large Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City Christmas events this year were ordered from the top level of government. No leaders said they believe the obstacles resulted merely from disagreements and delays among government departments, as it was sometimes made
to appear.

A number of other events held in public venues by the registered Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North) and the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) went ahead peacefully. The largest one in Ho Chi Minh City on Dec. 17 attracted an estimated 9,000 people, with about 1,000 indicating a desire to follow Christ.

In some places, unregistered house church organizations held small Christmas events without difficulty. According to one count, at least 6,000 people throughout Vietnam indicated a first-time decision to follow Christ in this year’s Christmas events.

Report from Compass Direct News

Church in Indonesia Forced to Accept Worship Terms of Islamists


Muslim groups, city officials dictate where church can hold services.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, October 15 (CDN) — A church in Banten Province that has been in conflict with Muslim groups for more than two years was compelled to cease meeting in the pastor’s home last week in a bid to put an end to harassment and threats.

The Sepatan Baptist Christian Church (GKB Sepatan) in Pisangan Jaya village, Sepatan, in Tangerang district, conceded that it would no longer worship in the home of the Rev. Bedali Hulu but rather in the facilities of two other churches.

In exchange, officials agreed to process a temporary worship permit that would presumably remove the pretext for Islamic protests against the church, but they refused to accept a deadline for doing so. Pastor Hulu argued at the Oct. 7 meeting with officials and Islamic groups that local government officials be given a three-month deadline for granting the temporary worship permit, but the officials insisted on a “flexible” time for issuing it.

Tangerang district authorities had issued a decree on Jan. 21 ordering all worship activities to cease at the church. Officials had pressured church leaders to sign a statement that they would stop all worship activities, but they refused.

Pastor Hulu said that he had received the government order on Jan. 26. The church had permission to worship from both local citizens and Christians in accordance with a Joint Ministerial Decree promulgated in 1969 and revised in 2006, he said, but pressure from Islamic groups forced local officials to try to close the church.

Representing Islamic interests in the five-hour long deliberations of Oct. 7 was the Communication Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB) of Tangerang City. Local officials included the Sepatan district chief, Sepatan sector police chief, the sub-district military commander of Sepatan, Civil police, and an official from the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Tangerang.

Pastor Hulu said he felt forced to accept the terms of the Islamic group and officials.

“Actually, we want the district to facilitate our worship by letting us use the function room of their office,” he said. “Also, we hope for the government to grant permission for our worship in accordance with the Joint Decree.”

A member of the Tangerang FKUB, Abdul Razak, said the talks resulted in the city and the Tangerang FKUB committing to help the congregation to worship temporarily in the nearest church buildings, which are seven kilometers (more than four miles) away in Kedaung, East Sepatan and belong to the Assemblies of God and the Pentecostal Church in Indonesia.

But those two churches use their buildings from 6 a.m. until noon on Sundays, Pastor Hulu said.

“Our congregation wants to worship between 10 am to 12 noon, because after 12 worship would conflict with family customs that are usually done at that hour,” he said.

Because of the incompatibility in worship times, the pastor said, GKB Sepatan appealed to a member of the FKUB Tangerang identified only as Zabir, who only suggested Pastor Hulu adhere to the FKUB consensus.

Although the Muslim groups and city officials were able to dictate where the church should worship in the coming months, they allowed the congregation to worship in one of the church members’ homes on Sunday (Oct. 10), as long as it wasn’t Pastor Hulu’s house, he said.

“Next week, if the local government has not been able to facilitate a place of worship to us, then we will worship from house to house,” the pastor said.

The church had worshipped in Pastor Hulu’s house since November 2008. Previously worship rotated among various members’ homes, reducing the congregation from 90 people to 30, he said, but now the congregation numbers 150.

The church has established good relationships with communities, religious leaders and local government, he said.

“First, we helped victims of the tsunami in Aceh in 2007,” Pastor Hulu said. “Second, we provided basic food, rice, blankets to flood victims in the village of Pisangan Jaya. Third, we have helped provide free medical treatment for residents affected by flooding in the village of Pisangan Jaya.”

The Oct. 7 agreement is yet to be signed. Razak said that the FKUB would draft an agreement for all parties to sign.

“If these problems can be resolved properly, then this will be a moment in history that the district of Tangerang was able to resolve religious issues, particularly related to the establishment of houses of worship,” he said.

The chairman of the Tangerang City FKUB, M. Syuro, said the meetings were necessary to forestall tensions as Tangerang is so close to Jakarta, 20 kilometers (12 miles) east.

Report from Compass Direct News

Recent Incidents of Persecution


Uttarakhand, India, April 30 (CDN) — Police arrested Pastor Jaswant Singh after extremists from the Hindu Jagrang Manch (Hindu Awareness Platform) filed a complaint against him of forceful conversion on April 25 in Rooria, Haridwar. A source told Compass that the extremists disrupted the prayer meeting of a house church service the pastor was leading, insulted the Christians’ faith and accused Pastor Singh of forcibly converting people. Police arrived and arrested Pastor Singh under Sections 107 and 10 of the Criminal Procedure Code for security and “keeping the peace,” and he was sent to Roorkie district jail. The pastor was released on bail the next day.

Karnataka – Police on April 19 detained Christians after local extremists filed a false complaint of forcible conversion against them in Hagare village in Hassan district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that a Christian identified only as Venkatesh invited two Christians, Guru Gowraiah and Puttuswamy Bhadraiah, to a prayer meeting at Basavaraj Pura. At about 7 p.m. a group of local extremists led by Hindu nationalists identified only as Mohan and Thammaiah disrupted the meeting, verbally abused the 20 people present and falsely accused Gowraiah and Bhadraiah of forcible conversion. Halebeedu police arrived and arrested Gowraiah and Bhadraiah. A police inspector identified only as Ramachandran M. told Compass that they were questioned and released after the complaint against them proved false.

Uttar Pradesh – Police arrested two Christians after Hindu extremists filed a complaint against them of making derogatory remarks against Hindu gods on April 15 in the Mohan area of Unnao. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that police arrested Budhi Ram and Vijay Phule of the Church of God as they were leading a prayer meeting. The two Christians were taken to Hassan Ganch police station and released on bail the next day. The Christians denied making any derogatory remarks against Hindu gods.

Chhattisgarh – Police on April 15 arrested four Christians in Bhilai after Hindu nationalists filed a complaint against them of forcible conversion in Bhilai. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that a group of young members of the Brethren Assembly were distributing Christian literature when a mob of nearly 40 Hindu nationalists from the extremist Bajrang Dal and Dharam Sena attacked them. The Christians suffered cuts and bruises. Police arrived and took both parties to the police station. The All India Christian Council reported that on hearing the news of the attack, local Christian policeman G. Samuel went to help and was also hit with a false allegation of forceful conversion under Chhattisgarh’s “anti-conversion” law. The Christians were released on bail on April 22.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on April 12 stopped a prayer meeting and accused Christians of forceful conversion in Chandapur, near Bangalore. The All India Christian Council reported that the intolerant Hindus beat the Christians, who sustained minor injuries. Police refused to file a complaint by the Christians.

Kerala – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal accused a Christian media team of forceful conversion and beat them on April 12 in Perambra, Calicut. The All India Christian Council reported that the extremists attacked the media team of the Assemblies of God church while they were screening films on Jesus and a documentary on cancer. After the film ended, the enraged extremists stoned the house of a pastor identified only as Ponnachen and accused him of forceful conversion. They further threatened to set the pastor and his vehicle on fire if he screens Christian films again.

Karnataka – About 50 Hindu nationalists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh attacked a house meeting of an Indian Pentecostal Church on April 11 in Horalhalli, Kanakapur, on the outskirts of Bangalore. The All India Christian Council reported that the Hindu extremists barged into the church’s worship service and accused Pastor K. Subhash of forceful conversion, threatened to beat him and warned him against leading any future house meeting services. Officers arrested Pastor Subhash, and he was released only after the station police inspector warned him not to conduct any future house church meetings while telling the extremists not to disturb the Christians.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists accompanied by police roughed up 12 pastors and accused them of forceful conversion on April 5 in Karmoda, Kodagu. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the mob stormed into the Christians’ meeting in the home of a Christian identified only as Vijay and took them to Ponnampet police station. After questioning, the Christians were charged with uttering words intending to hurt the religious feelings of others, defiling a place of worship, intent to insult the beliefs of others, intention to provoke a breach of peace and criminal intimidation and sent them to Virajpet jail.

Chhattisgarh – Police arrested three Christians based on a complaint of forceful conversion by Hindu nationalists on April 4 in Durg. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that police arrested Pastor Premlal Chhatriys and two Christians identified only as Umabai and Sulanbai of the Evangelical Christian Church of India. The Hindu extremists had encouraged a Hindu woman, Agasia Bai, to file the complaint as she had attended the church twice last year seeking healing for her sick daughter. In February her daughter died, and the Hindu nationalists massed at Bai’s house and forced her to write a police complaint against the Christians of forceful conversion, according to EFI. She submitted a complaint claiming that the Christians had offered her 5,000 rupees (US$112)to convert and another 5,000 rupees after conversion, and that a pastor identified only as Chhatriys had forced her to eat beef on her two visits to the church in July of last year. With area leaders’ intervention, the Christians were released on bail on April 6.

Chhattisgarh – Hindu nationalists from the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) disrupted Easter Sunday worship (April 4) of a Church of North India in Parsapani, Bilaspur, and accused pastor Bhaktu Lakda and others of forceful conversion. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that the extremists tore Christian pictures, seized Bibles and other gospel literature and beat the Christians. The Hindu extremists were accompanied by some local residents. Police arrived and made an inquiry. 

Uttarakhand – A mob of Hindu extremists accused Pastor Vinay Tanganiya of forceful conversion and beat him on March 30 in Barkote. The general secretary of the Christian Legal Association, Tehmina Arora, told Compass that the pastor, who also runs a school, fled to Barkote police station after the Hindu extremist mob beat him, but police refused to take his complaint and threatened to beat him further. The pastor was badly bruised.

Kerala – Police on March 29 detained a pastor and an evangelist along with their family members, including a 4-month-old baby, on false charges of denigrating Hindu gods in Ambalavayal police station in Wayanand. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the Hindu extremists, accompanied by police officials, stopped the Christians on their way back home after the screening of a gospel film in the Madakara area and started beating them. Pastor Eassow Varghese and Baiju P. George had obtained permission from the villagers to screen the film. The villagers testified that the allegations of the Hindu extremists were baseless. Police also seized the Christians’ film projector and van. After four hours, the Christians and their family members were released without charges.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on March 25 disrupted a prayer meeting and beat Christians for their faith in Kadim, Alidabad. The All India Christian Council reported that the extremists, led by Anjane Yulu, stormed into the prayer meeting as church members were singing. The extremists beat two pastors identified only as John and Prabudas of the Indian Evangelical Team, as well as other church members, and verbally abused them for their Christian activities. The Christians sought the help of the village head, but the intolerant Hindus continued to beat them even in his presence. Police refused to take the complaint of the Christians.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Recent Incidents of Persecution


Madhya Pradesh, India, March 31 (CDN)Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists accompanied by police officials on March 28 disrupted Christian worship in Raksha Nagar, Ranjhi, Jabalpur. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that at 10:30 a.m. about 45 extremists from the Bajrang Dal broke into the service shouting Hindu slogans, followed by police, as Pastor Francis Zavier of the Apostolic Christian Assemblies was leading the service. Police took Vinay Ashwaley, Mangal Das Chowdhary, Panchwati Chowdhary, Shailesh Philemon, Mamta Chowdhary and Kanti Bai Chowdhary to the Ranjhi police station. A police official told Compass that the intruders were acting on a written complaint from a known Bajrang Dal activist identified only by his surname, Sonekar, that “conversion activities” were taking place at the church. Conversion and conversion activities are legal in India. After questioning the Christians for nearly three hours, police released them without charges as the allegations were baseless, an officer told Compass. The Fellowship of Pastors subsequently sent a written request for additional police security for Good Friday and Easter Sunday services.

New Delhi – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) attacked Pastor Galdwin Masih and another Christian identified only as Pritam on March 25 in the Seema Puri area of New Delhi. The pastor was leading a prayer meeting where three RSS members were present. In the middle of the meeting they alerted other RSS members and, as they began to leave, threatened to beat the Christians. As Pastor Masih and Pritam were returning home, about 25 extremists stopped them on the road and beat them with cricket stumps and hockey sticks, leaving their bodies badly bruised. Pastor Gladwin called police, who rushed to the site as the extremists fled. A First Information Report was filed against the attackers, but no arrests had been made at press time.

Tamil Nadu – Local Hindu villagers in Palladam, Tiruppur, on March 23 filed a complaint against five Christians for carrying brochures depicting Hindu religion and gods as barbaric and glorifying Christianity. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the Christians from Nagercoil village, identified only as Kannian, Pride, Mathew, Paulraj and Vincent, visited Christians in Kullampalaya slum area to provide medical help. A local daily reported that the Christians were carrying brochures favoring Christianity over Hinduism and that their primary aim was “forcible conversion” by offering promises of free homes, money, food and jobs in foreign countries. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that Kama Nayakkampalayam police took the five Christians into custody, but after questioning them found them innocent and released them. They were released with a “soft warning to not indulge in such activities again,” reported the local-vernacular daily.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists in Anakapalli Mandal attacked Pastor Nireekshana Roa and his wife on March 22. Led by village head Ram Naidu, the extremists accused the couple of forceful conversion and beat them for preaching in the area. The couple was earlier attacked for organizing a prayer meeting in the area. Police refused to file the pastor’s complaint, and area Christian leaders were trying to intervene on the couple’s behalf at press time.

Chhattisgarh – About 25 Hindu extremists forced their way into the Sunday worship service of Believers Church of India in Raipur on March 21, threatening and cursing the Christians and seizing Bibles and other literature. An area source reported that at about 2 p.m. the extremists entered and threatened to beat the Christians if they did not leave the area; they also threatened to get a government employee present fired from her job if she continued in her Christian faith. Police detained the Christians for about three hours, during which they also issued threats for them to leave the area. The church members were said to be living in fear.

Chhattisgarh – About 40 Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal stopped the Sunday prayer meeting of Ebenezer Church in Kasdol on March 21. A source told Compass that at 3:30 p.m. the extremists angrily barged into the prayer meeting, accused the Christians of forceful conversion, tore Bibles and Christian literature and shut the church. They threatened the Christians with violence if they continued to hold prayer meetings. The extremists alerted police, and officers took some Christian leaders of the church, including Pastor Ravi Bagha, to the police station for about seven hours. Area Christians intervened and they were released without charges. Police refused to take the complaint of the Christians, reported the source.

Chhattisgarh – About 40 Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) on March 21 attacked Christian students and teachers at Personality Development Centre for Youth, a training center managed by Care for the People of India, in Durg. The extremists verbally abused them, burned Bibles and gospel literature and got them arrested on false charges of insulting the national flag. A source told Compass that at about 2 p.m. the extremists, carrying a national flag on which they had painted a red cross, forcefully entered the center and began beating the students. Later, with the criminally defaced flag as supposed evidence, the extremists filed a complaint of insulting the Indian flag against three teachers of the center. The three Christians were booked for insulting the national flag and were later released on bail. Praful Barrik, head of Care for the People of India, received medical treatment for injuries sustained in the attack.

Chhattisgarh – Hindu extremists from the Dharma Sena (Religious Army) on March 21 accused members of The Pentecostal Church of forceful conversion and beat them in Nandini, Durg. A source told Compass that about 35 extremists forcefully entered the church at about 1:30 p.m., as the Sunday meeting was winding up. At press time area Christian leaders were taking steps to register an FIR against the attackers.

Karnataka – Police arrested a pastor on March 15 after Hindu extremists filed a complaint against him of forceful conversion in Borgunta, Sullai Taluk, Mangalore. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that the incident took place when a Christian identified only as Pastor Valsalan of Bethesda Assemblies of God Church, along with his family, was visiting a church member’s home; about 30 Hindu extremists barged into the house and accused the pastor of forceful conversion. An area Bharatiya Janata Party member of the Legislative Assembly and other extremists pressured police authorities to arrest the pastor. Officers arrived and arrested him, and he was sent to central jail in Mangalore.

Madhya Pradesh – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal in Badwani on March 13 stopped a meeting at a Christian convention and accused those in attendance of forceful conversion. Satsang (Fellowship) Ministry organized the three-day spiritual convention after obtaining permission from local police on March 12. The Christians went to police to say they had obtained permission for the convention, but officers sided with the extremists, telling the Christians to cease attending.

Karnataka – Based on a complaint by an area leader of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad of forcible conversion, police on March 10 arrested Pastor Hanume Nayak of Good Shepherd Community Church and his wife. Officers questioned the couple in Chellur, and they were held in custody the entire night. With the intervention of area Christian leaders and that of a member of the Legislative Assembly, the Christians were released on bail the next day.

Chhattisgarh – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena on March 9 attacked a pastor and warned him to leave the Kawardha area. Massing near the Christian’s house, about 20 Hindu extremists called for Pastor Sanatan Masih of The Christian Church to come out of his home, and then they began beating him, reported the Evangelical Fellowship of India. In an earlier incident on Feb. 15, the extremists had threatened to harm the pastor if he conducted any Christian activity. On March 3 they broke into The Christian Church and vandalized it, and police refused to register the complaint of Christians. In the March 9 attack, Pastor Masih sustained injuries to his mouth, back and stomach. At press time, he had relocated as a safety measure.

Karnataka – Hindu radicals in Periyapattinam, Mysore brutally beat Pastor Ravi Chandran, 30, on March 8. The pastor was leading a prayer service at a house in Banavara village, Periyapattinam at 11:30 a.m. when 10 to 15 Hindu extremists forced their way into the house. They hit the pastor with soda bottles and kicked and punched him repeatedly before leaving. Pastor Chandran received hospital treatment for a leg injury and for swelling on his head. A native of Chankeshwara Puram, Periyapattinam, Pastor Chandran has been in church leadership for the seven years and ministers at Gospel in Action Fellowship, with about 35 believers. The attack was reported to Somvarpet police station.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists beat a Christian identified only as Pastor Devaraju of Good Shepherd Community Church on March 7, locked his church building and confined him to his house for several hours in Timmajipet, Mahabubnagar. The All Indian Christian Council reported that the pastor and church members had opposed Hindu extremists trying to bury a body in a Christian cemetery with Hindu rituals on March 5. In response the Hindus retaliated with the March 7 attack. They confined the pastor to his room for nearly a day, threatening to take possession of the church building and turn it into a local community hall. At press time local Christian leaders were trying to help resolve the matter.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists allegedly led by a municipal councilor on Feb. 28 accused Christians in Karwar of forceful conversion and beat them till they fell unconscious on a roadside. Led by Raja Gowda, the extremists at about 6:30 p.m. charged onto the premises of New Life Fellowship Church, where Christians David Lambani and Satish Ambedkar were staying. The extremists verbally insulted them and dragged them out to the street before beating them unconscious. The Christians were rushed to the hospital. Lambani’s left ear drum was damaged, while Satish sustained head injuries and broken bones. Police registered a First Information Report against the attackers, but no arrests had been made at press time. Legal documents for the church site had been obtained, but area village leaders had stopped construction on November 2009 and in February.

Chhattisgarh – State police on Feb. 28 arrested six Christians after extremists filed a false complaint of forcible conversion. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Pastor Jose Thomas of the Indian Missionary Movement organized a meeting for around 40 Christians at Holy Kingdom English High School in Kawardha district. At around 2:30 p.m., a mob of nearly 50 Hindu nationalist extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh stormed into the school, verbally abused the Christians and made false allegations of forcible conversion. Kawardha police officials came to the school and arrested Pastor Thomas and five Christians, who were also charged with injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class. Police Inspector Surinder Singh told Compass that local resident Chandra Prakash had filed the complaint against the Christians, and that they were released on bail on March 9. Singh denied GCIC allegations that the Christians were beaten inside the police station.

Madhya Pradesh – Police arrested a Christian who goes by this a single name, Adhwan, on Feb. 20 on charges of forceful conversion. A source reported that officers accused the preacher of forceful conversion and had previously arrested him on Jan. 23 for alleged forceful conversion, when he was sent to Champa district jail. Authorities also confiscated his passport. He had been released on bail on Jan. 27. On Feb. 20 police arrested him again on the same charges and released him the next day. Attorney Anurag Nath told Compass that police had no grounds for the arrests.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on Feb. 15 ostracized an elderly couple for following Jesus in Timmaipet, Mahabubnagar, Hyderabad. The All Indian Christian Council reported that Mullugula Buddaiah, 70, and his 60-year-old wife Pullamma were cast out of the community for their faith in Christ as the extremists ordered the couple to vacate their house and leave the village. An area pastor identified only as Devaraju filed a police complaint, which officers refused to register. Local Christian leaders were taking steps to resolve the matter at press time. 

Report from Compass Direct News 

Iranian Pastor Tortured, Threatened for ‘Converting Muslims’


Arrest, imprisonment appear to be part of larger crackdown in Isfahan.

ISTANBUL, March 8 (CDN) — An Assyrian pastor the Iranian government accused of “converting Muslims” is being tortured in prison and threatened with execution, sources close to the case said.

State Security agents on Feb. 2 arrested the Rev. Wilson Issavi, 65, shortly after he finished a house meeting at a friend’s home in Isfahan. A city of more than 1.5 million people, Isfahan is located 208 miles (335 kilometers) south of Tehran.

According to Farsi Christian News Network, Issavi’s wife, Medline Nazanin, recently visited her husband in prison, where she saw that he had obvious signs of torture and was in poor condition. Iranian intelligence officials told Nazanin that her husband might be executed for his alleged activities.

Issavi is the pastor of The Evangelical Church of Kermanshah in Isfahan, a 50-year-old church body affiliated with The Assemblies of God that caters to the local Assyrian population.

During the raid, State Security police detained everyone in the house, later releasing all but Issavi and the owner of the home. Security officials also seized personal property from the home. Typically in Christian arrests in Iran, security officials confiscate all documents, media materials, computers, and personal documentation.

Issavi is being held in an unmarked prison, according to FCNN.

Last month’s arrest seems to be part of an anti-Christian sweep that is taking place across Isfahan. In addition to the politically motivated detentions and executions that have taken place after June’s contested election and subsequent nation-wide political protests, it appears authorities are rounding up Christian leaders.

More Arrests

On Feb. 28, Isfahan residents Hamid Shafiee and his wife Reyhaneh Aghajary, both converts from Islam and house church leaders, were arrested at their home.

Aghajary was at home with a group of other Christians when police came for her and her husband, who was not at home, according to Middle East Concern, a group that assists persecuted Christians. Police handcuffed Aghajary and, upon finding boxes of Bibles, began beating her.

The assault continued until eventually Aghajary was pepper-sprayed and removed from the scene. Her husband Shafiee was arrested an hour later when he returned to the house.

Their fate and whereabouts are still unknown.

Authorities assaulted another Christian visiting the house at the time of the raid when he protested the police action. Other Christians at the house were threatened, but no one else was arrested. Approximately 20 police officers raided the home, seizing Bibles, CDs, photographs, computers, telephones, personal items and other literature.

One regional analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Iranian government is set on crushing religious freedom within the country.

“The recent spate of church leader arrests provides clear evidence of the Iranian authorities’ desperate determination to strangle the growing church movement, along with all other forms of perceived political dissent,” he said.

February’s arrest was not the first time Shafiee has had run-ins with Iranian authorities. He has routinely been ordered to appear before police for questioning and then released. This arrest, however, was different. When family members contacted police on March 1, they were told that the couple’s case was under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Court and were turned away with no other information.

While the couple is imprisoned, family members are caring for their two teenage boys.

Frequent Harassment

Like Shafiee, Issavi has been harassed frequently by the Isfahan branch of the State Security police. He has been ordered to appear before the police many times, then arrested and interrogated. In addition, police have threatened members of his family and have broken into his house and taken items such as his computer.

On Jan. 2, 2010, police sealed the Kermanshah church and ordered Issavi not to reopen it. The church continued to have house meetings, and authorities charged Issavi with not cooperating with the government.

The Assyrians were one of the first ethnic groups in the Middle East to adopt Christianity. The existence of the Assyrian Christian community in Iran predates the existence of their Islamic counterparts by several hundred years. There are 10,000 to 20,000 Assyrian Christians living in Iran, according to unofficial estimates cited in the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report issued by the U.S. Department of State. The total Christian population is 300,000 nationwide, according to the United Nations. Most of those Christians are ethnic Armenians.

Isfahan has been the site of some of the worst religious persecution in Iran. On July 30, 2008, Abbas Amiri, a Christian man in his 60s, died in a hospital after being beaten by Isfahan security police. Authorities had arrested Amiri along with seven other men, six women and two minors during a July 17 raid on a house meeting. Four days after her husband died, Sakineh Rahnama succumbed to her injuries and a stress-related heart attack. Later, officials wouldn’t allow local Christians to hold a memorial service.

Iran, where Shia Islam is the official state religion, is known to be one of the worst countries for repression against Christians. The U.S. Secretary of State has designated Iran as a Country of Particular Concern every year since 1999 for its persecution of non-Shia Muslims, among others.

Last year, according to the International Religious Freedom Report, persecution of Christians and other religious minorities continued to get “significantly worse.” The state department placed the blame for this squarely at the feet of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s conservative media, who “intensified a campaign against non-Muslim religious minorities, and political and religious leaders” by issuing a continual stream of inflammatory statements.

“Christians, particularly evangelicals, continued to be subject to harassment and close surveillance,” the report states. “The government vigilantly enforced its prohibition on proselytizing by closely monitoring the activities of evangelical Christians, discouraging Muslims from entering church premises, closing churches, and arresting Christian converts.”

Evangelical Christians were required to carry church membership cards and provide photocopies to authorities, according to the report.

“Worshippers were subject to identity checks by authorities posted outside congregation centers,” it states. “The government restricted meetings for evangelical services to Sundays, and church officials were ordered to inform the Ministry of Information and Islamic Guidance before admitting new members.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

Unprecedented Christmas Gathering Held in Vietnam


With permission little and late, organizers work by faith to accommodate crowds.

HO CHI MINH CITY, December 14 (CDN) — On Friday evening (Dec. 11), history was made in communist Vietnam.

Christian sources reported that some 40,000 people gathered in a hastily constructed venue in Ho Chi Minh City to worship God, celebrate Christmas, and hear a gospel message – an event of unprecedented magnitude in Vietnam.

A popular Vietnamese Christian website and other reports indicated up to 8,000 people responded to the gospel message indicating a desire to follow Christ.

For the last two years, authorities surprisingly granted permission to unregistered house churches in Ho Chi Minh City to hold public Christmas rallies, and last year more than 10,000 people participated in one in Tao Dan Stadium.

This year visionary house church leaders approached the government in October and asked for a sports stadium seating 30,000; they were refused. Authorities offered a sports venue holding only 3,000, located 13 kilometers (eight miles) out of the city. This was unacceptable to the organizers. They pressed for another stadium in the city holding about 15,000, and officials gave them a verbal promise that they could have it.

The verbal promise did not translate into the written permission that is critical in the country – church leaders say such promises are empty until “we have the permission paper in our hand.” Christian leaders believed event planning had to proceed without permission and sent out invitations far and wide – only to have authorities deny the stadium they had promised.

Led by Pastor Ho Tan Khoa, chairman of a large fellowship of house church organizations, organizers were forced to look for alternatives. They found a large open field in the Go Vap district of the city. When permission was still not granted five days before the planned event, several church leaders literally camped for three days outside city hall, pressing for an answer.

Authorities, who often work to sabotage united action among Christians, tried urgently to find ways to talk the leaders out of going ahead, promising future concessions if they would cancel the event. Organizers stood firm. Ultimately they told the deputy mayor that refusal to grant permission at that point would have far-ranging, negative ramifications in Vietnam as well as internationally.

Finally, at the close of business on Dec. 9, just 48 hours before the scheduled event, officials granted permission that required clearance all the way to Hanoi. But the permission was only for 3,000 people, and many more had been invited.

Organizers had less than two days to turn a vacant field into something that would accommodate a stadium-size crowd. They had to bring in ample electricity, construct a giant stage, rent 20,000 chairs, and set up the sound and lighting. The extremely short time frame caused contractors to double the prices they would have charged with ample time.

Organizers also rented hundreds of busses to bring Christians and their non-Christian friends from provinces near the city. Thousands of students sacrificed classes to help with last-minute preparations and to join the celebration.

Just after noon on Friday (Dec. 11), word came that police had stopped busses carrying 300 Steing minority people from the west to the event scheduled for that day. Organizers, fearing all busses would be stopped, put out an emergency worldwide prayer request.

Christian sources said that authorities either did not or could not stop busses from other directions, and that by evening the venue became the biggest “bus station” in all of Vietnam. By 6 p.m. the venue was full to capacity, and at least 2,000 had to be turned away.

Christians described the event, entitled, “With Our Whole Hearts,” in superlative terms. For house churches, large gatherings are both very rare and very special, and for many this was their first glimpse of the strength of Vietnam’s growing Christian movement. Thousands of Christians joined a choir of more 1,000 singers in loud and joyful praise.

Sources said that the main speaker, the Rev. Duong Thanh Lam, head of the Assemblies of God house churches “preached with anointing” and people responding to his gospel invitation poured to the front of the stage “like a waterfall.” With space in front of the stage insufficient, the sources said, many others in their seats also indicated their desire to receive Christ.

Organizers along with many participants were overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude as the event closed. People spontaneously hugged each other and cried, “Lord, bring revival to all of Vietnam!” Other comments included, “Beyond our fondest imagination,” and, “Nothing could stop the hand of the Lord.”

The event raised more than 60 million dong (US$3,280) for a charity helping needy children. People were quite surprised to read a positive article on the event in the state-controlled press, which often vilifies Christians.

House churches in the north were hopeful that they could hold a similar event. Organizers in Hanoi have heard encouraging reports that they will get permission to use the national My Dinh sports stadium for a Christmas celebration, though they do not have it in hand. Sources said they have sent out invitations across a broad area to an event scheduled for Dec. 20.

Friday’s event also made history in that it was streamed live on the Vietnamese website www.hoithanh.com and viewed by thousands more in Vietnam and by Vietnamese people around the world.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Church Registration in Vietnam Inches Along


Assemblies of God obtains ‘operating license,’ but quest for recognition continues.

HO CHI MINH CITY, October 23 (CDN) — The Assemblies of God (AoG) in Vietnam on Monday (Oct. 19) received an “operating license,” which the government described as “the first step . . . before becoming officially legal.”

This operating license gives permission for all of the congregations of the Vietnam AoG to “carry on religious activity” anywhere in the country for the next year. During this time the church body must prepare a doctrinal statement, a constitution and bylaws and a four-year working plan to be approved by the government before being allowed to hold an organizing assembly. These steps, AoG leaders hope, would lead to legal recognition.

The operating license is the first one granted since five were granted two years ago. The last of those five churches, the Christian Fellowship Church, was finally allowed to hold its organizing assembly in late September. According to an internal 2008 government Protestant Training Manual obtained by church leaders, this assembly was delayed because authorities observed large discrepancies between the number of followers the group claimed and the actual number, as well as other “instability.”

Vietnam News Service reported on Sept. 29 that the Christian Fellowship Church has “30,000 believers nationwide.”

Should the AoG achieve legal recognition, it would be the ninth among some 70 Protestant groups in Vietnam and the seventh since new religion legislation touted to expedite registration was introduced in 2004.

The AoG quest was typically long, and it is not yet over. Though started in the early 1970s before the communist era, the denomination was deemed dormant by authorities after the communist takeover and restarted in 1989. Strangely, the Vietnamese religion law requires a church organization to have 20 years of stable organization before it can even be considered for legal recognition.

Though the AoG had been trying for years to register, only this year did it fulfill the 20-year requirement in the eyes of the government. Sources said AoG’s resistance to strong pressure by the government to eliminate a middle or district level of administration may also have contributed to the delay.

Ironically, the official government news report credits the Vietnam AoG with 40,000 followers, while denominational General Superintendent Samuel Lam told Compass the number is 25,000. He also said he hoped the advantages of registration would outweigh the disadvantages.

With no more operating licenses being granted, the future of registration is in a kind of limbo. Sources said a lower level of registration in which local authorities are supposed to offer permission for local congregations to carry on religious activities while the more complicated higher levels are worked out has largely failed. Only about 10 percent of the many hundreds of applications have received a favorable reply, they said, leaving most house churches vulnerable to arbitrary harassment or worse.

Leaders of all Protestant groups say that they continue to experience government resistance, as well as social pressure, whenever they preach Christ in new areas. They added that evidence is strong that the government’s aim is to contain Protestant growth.

Hmong Christians who fled the Northwest Mountainous Region for the Central Highlands a decade ago, developing very poor land in places such as Dak Nong, reported to Compass that they were singled out for land confiscation just when their fields became productive. They said ethnic Vietnamese made these land grabs with the complicity of the authorities, sometimes multiple times.

At the same time, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Oct. 19 that Vietnam has experienced a “sharp backsliding on religious freedom.” Among other incidents, HRW cited the late September crackdown on followers of Buddhist peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. Some 150 monks were forcibly evicted from his sect’s Bat Nha Monastery in Lam Dong province on Sept. 27, and 200 nuns fled in fear the next day. As in recent land disputes with Roman Catholics involving thousands of demonstrators, authorities hired local and imported thugs to do the deed to present the image that ordinary local people were upset with the religion.

After a visit to Vietnam in May, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that the United States reinstate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), the blacklist of religious liberty offenders. Vietnam had been on the list from 2004 until 2006.

The USCIRF, which experienced less government cooperation that on some previous visits,  observed that “Vietnam’s overall human rights record remains poor, and has deteriorated since Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization in January 2007.”

Some key Protestant leaders describe themselves as weary and frustrated at what they termed the government’s lack of sincerity, extreme tardiness and outright duplicity regarding religious freedom. They too said they believe that the lifting of Vietnam’s CPC status was premature and resulted in the loss of a major incentive for Vietnam to improve religious freedom.

Report from Compass Direct News 

SRI LANKA: RASH OF ATTACKS ON CHRISTIANS REPORTED


Assaults by local mobs, including Buddhist monks, surge.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, August 17 (Compass Direct News) – Attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka have surged noticeably in recent weeks, following the government’s defeat of Tamil separatists in May.

Attacks were reported in Puttlam, Gampaha and Kurunegala districts in western Sri Lanka, central Polonnaruwa district, Mannar district in the north and Matara district in the south, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL).

Most recently, attackers on July 28 set fire to an Assemblies of God church in Norachcholai, Puttlam district, destroying the building. The pastor received frantic calls from neighbors at about 8:45 p.m. reporting that the building was in flames, echoing a similar arson attack almost a year ago that destroyed the original building on the site.

Church members have registered a complaint with police, but at press time no arrests had been made.

When a pastor of a Foursquare Gospel church and his wife visited a church member in Radawana village, Gampaha district during the third week of July, a 50-strong mob gathered at the door and shouted that they would not tolerate any further Christian activity in the village, NCEASL reported. The mob then prevented the couple from leaving the house, hit the pastor with a rod and threw a bucket of cow dung at him.

The disturbance continued for two hours before police finally answered repeated requests for assistance and arrived at the house, arresting three people who were later released.

Earlier, on June 28, a mob consisting of more than 100 people, including Buddhist monks, surrounded the home of a female pastor of another Foursquare Gospel church in the village, according to the NCEASL. At the time the pastor, whose name was withheld for security reasons, and her husband were away. Their 13-year-old daughter watched helplessly as the mob broke in, shouted insults and destroyed chairs and other furniture.

Hearing that their home was under attack, the parents rushed to get police help, but the mob had dispersed by the time officers arrived. Police called the pastor into the Gampaha police station for questioning on July 9 and July 11; on the second occasion, protestors surrounded her and other pastors who accompanied her, spitting on them and initially preventing them from entering the police station.

Later, in the presence of Buddhist monks and other protestors, the pastor was forced to sign a document promising not to host worship services for non-family members.

Also in Gampaha district, a mob on July 14 destroyed the partially-built home of Sanjana Kumara, a Christian resident of Obawatte village. On receiving a phone call from a friend, Kumara rushed to the scene to find the supporting pillars of the house pulled down, damaging the structure beyond repair.

Villagers launched a smear campaign against Kumara on July 6, after he invited his pastor and other Christians to bless the construction of his home. As the group prayed, about 30 people entered the premises and demanded that they stop worshiping. The mob then threatened to kill Kumara, falsely accusing him of constructing a church building.

On July 8, Kumara discovered that unknown persons had broken into a storage shed on the property, stealing tools and painting a Buddhist blessing on the walls. Police were reluctant to record Kumara’s complaint until a lawyer intervened.

The Sri Lanka population is 69.1 percent Buddhist, 7.6 percent Muslim, 7.1 percent Hindu and 6.2 percent Christian, with the remaining 10 percent unspecified.

Sword Attack

In Markandura village, Kurunegala district, seven men wielding swords on July 12 attacked caretaker Akila Dias and three other members of the Vineyard Community church, causing serious injury to church members and church property. Dias and others received emergency care at a local hospital before being transferred to a larger hospital in the area for treatment.

Church members filed a complaint with police, identifying one of the attackers as the same man who had assaulted the church pastor and another worker with a machete in March; at that time police had arrested the man but released him on bail. Several other attacks followed, including one on June 29 in which the church premises were desecrated with human feces. Documents were also circulated on July 18 describing the church as a divisive force aiming to destroy peace in the local community.

On the night of July 12, attackers tore off roof tiles from the church building and threw them to the ground, leaving it exposed to the elements.

On July 5, a mob of around 100 people, half of them Buddhist monks, forcibly entered an Assemblies of God church in Dickwella, Matara district, warning church members to cease all Christian worship in the area and pasting notices on the walls declaring that “any form of Christian worship in this place is completely prohibited.”

The congregation has filed a complaint with local police.

On June 23, a Foursquare Gospel pastor from Polonnaruwa district was stopped by a group of men riding motorcycles as he drove home after attending a late evening prayer meeting. Three men wearing masks attacked him with knives and shouted, “This is your last day! If we let you live, you will convert the whole town!”

The pastor sustained severe cuts to his arms as he warded off blows aimed at his neck, before driving away to seek medical help. Police in Polonnaruwa have initiated an inquiry.

Finally, in Thalvapadu village, Mannar district, members of an Apostolic church were dedicating their newly constructed building on June 7 when a mob of about 300 people forcibly entered the premises, threatening the pastor and congregation. They demolished the new church building, throwing roofing sheets and bricks onto a plot of adjacent land.

When church members filed a complaint, police arrested seven of the attackers; a case has been filed with a local court.

Report from Compass Direct News 

VIETNAM: MASSIVE CHRISTIAN CELEBRATION ALLOWED


Officials permit rare, open-air Easter event by unregistered groups.

HO CHI MINH CITY, April 22 (Compass Direct News) – In what religious freedom advocates regarded as a breakthrough in Vietnam, authorities granted rare permission to unregistered house church groups to hold a large, public Easter-related service here last night.

More than 15,000 people gathered at Tao Dan Stadium to worship God, proclaim Christ and experience a rare sense of large-scale Christian unity, especially house church members accustomed to meeting in small groups. The only other such event granted to unregistered groups was an open-air meeting during Christmas of 2007 sponsored by the Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship (VEF, a house church umbrella group).

At the event last night, the VEF endeavored to include all house churches, not just its own members, sources said.

Unregistered groups holding an event that includes worship and evangelism outside a church building violates Vietnam’s restrictive religion laws, and the celebration – in which 1,200 people indicated they had decided to follow Christ – did not happen without struggles. Reluctant to endorse such Christian unity events, authorities demanded and got the removal of one of the organizers – pastor Nguyen Ngoc Hien, who heads a Baptist house church and a group called the Christian Fellowship of Vietnam – as a condition to consider approval.

Officials did not grant permission until 4 p.m., just three hours before the event was to begin, though event organizers had requested permission several months prior. Authorities had assured them that permission was forthcoming, but organizers were understandably nervous. Adding to their concerns was the rain that hit just before the service began, though the rainy season has yet to arrive.

Since the celebration was held in the open air, a heavy rain would have been more than inconvenient. It rained just enough to refresh the air, stopping as the service began – an answer to prayer for participants. The celebration began with congregational worship; participants said the huge crowd sang with enthusiasm and joy.

“I never heard any singing like this, even in a Billy Graham crusade,” said one overseas Vietnamese Christian leader. “It was as if they offered to God all the praise and worship stored up in their hearts during many years of oppression.”

Worship included a dance group, and a 120-voice choir sang with gusto. Pastor Duong Thanh Lam of the Assemblies of God served as master of ceremonies, pastor Vo Van Lac of the Full Gospel Church preached a gospel message and pastor Pham Dinh Nhan of the United Gospel Outreach Church made an evangelistic appeal. People responded with loud applause and raised their hands in praise, and those who decided to follow Christ included old and young, students and teachers, rank-and-file workers and some disabled people. Witnesses said some were healed as leaders prayed for them.

Leaders of the celebration and religious freedom advocates in Vietnam said the event was significant in that unregistered house churches were allowed to hold a large public celebration. They added that authorities must have felt enough pressure to consider the event less harmful than possible negative publicity from denying permission.

The sources also said the event showed that Vietnam’s house churches, widely known for divisiveness and provincialism, could cooperate with good results.

“Those who have long urged and worked for unity can be pleased,” said one advocate. “While there is still a long way to go for Vietnamese Christian groups in practicing collaboration and partnership, this Easter celebration is seen as a significant step forward.”

A prominent overseas Vietnam leader who founded the Vietnam World Christian Fellowship witnessed the event and highly commended the leadership of pastor Ho Tan Khoa, chairman of the VEF, and his committee.

Some former Vietnam missionaries were incredulous that such events can take place in Vietnam, which until recently has had a place among the world’s top persecutors of religion. Prior to the Easter-related event organized by unregistered house churches, Christmas events were similarly held by the legally recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) last December.

“That a successful Christian celebration with mass evangelism approved by the government can take place in Vietnam where in some places Christians are still heavily persecuted shows the ongoing inconsistency of Vietnam’s religion policy,” said one source. “Vietnam Christian leaders have long prayed for such opportunities. They see these events as direct answers from God, whom they believe holds the hearts of rulers in his hands.”

Three representatives of a house church group in China were present at the service; they expressed amazement. They promised Vietnamese church leaders to send missionaries to help in the evangelization of Vietnam and invited Vietnamese church leaders to visit China to learn about the church there.

Vietnamese participants said the celebration was inspiring, describing it as “spectacular,” “splendid,” “glorious” and “phenomenal.”  

Report from Compass Direct News

BURMA: REPORT DOCUMENTS ABUSE OF CHIN CHRISTIANS


Human Rights Watch shows systematic, officially sanctioned religious freedom violations.

DUBLIN, February 20 (Compass Direct News) – A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released in January details serious and ongoing abuses against the Chin people, a minority group in Burma’s northwest who claim to be 90 percent Christian.

HRW’s research echoes a 2004 report by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) that described targeted abuse of Christians in Chin state, with the Burmese army subjecting pastors and church members to forced labor, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and sometimes death.

While religious oppression is extreme in Chin state, restrictions also apply elsewhere in Burma, also known as Myanmar. Most recently, officials in January forced the closure of more than 100 churches in Rangoon and ordered owners of apartment buildings and conference facilities not to rent their properties to religious groups.

Based on interviews with Chin refugees in India and Malaysia between 2003 and 2008, HRW’s report describes how an increasing number of army battalions stationed in Chin state since 1988 have inflicted forced labor and arbitrary fines on the Chin people, as well as bullied them away from Christianity toward Buddhism.

“When we meet the army, we are shaking,” a Chin refugee pastor told HRW. “Whatever they want is law.”

The HRW report, entitled “We Are Like Forgotten People,” notes that soldiers frequently forced Christians to donate finances and labor to pagoda construction projects in areas where there were few or no Buddhist residents.

They also occasionally forced Christians to worship in Buddhist pagodas. One Chin pastor described how Burmese soldiers brought him to a pagoda and prodded him with their guns, commanding him to pray as a Buddhist.

“They said that this is a Buddhist country and that I should not practice Christianity,” he told HRW.

The military forced village headmen to present “volunteers” for military training or army construction projects and secured “donations” such as food or finance for army battalions. Soldiers severely beat or detained headmen if a village failed to meet quotas, seizing livestock or property in retribution.

Pastors often faced similar treatment, particularly if church members were accused – often without proof – of involvement with the Chin National Front insurgency group. HRW listed arrest, detention and torture as methods used against those accused of being part of the Chin National Front, based across the border in northeast India. Torture included beatings with sticks or guns and electric shocks via metal clips attached to high-voltage batteries. Such measures were also used to crush dissent against army policies such as failure to pay extortionate and arbitrary fees.

The military government promoted Buddhism over all other religions in Chin state through threats and inducements, destroying churches and other religious symbols, and restricting the printing and importing of Bibles and other Christian literature, HRW reported.

A judge in 1999 sentenced one man from Falam township to three years in prison for bringing Chin language Bibles into Burma, contravening Burma’s 1965 Censor Law. Authorities also burned 16,000 copies of Chin and other ethnic language Bibles brought into neighboring Sagaing Division, another Chin majority area, in 2000.

 

‘Campaign of Ethnocide’

CHRO’s 2004 report, “Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide Against Chin Christians in Burma,” explained that Christianity had become inseparable from Chin culture following the arrival of American Baptist missionaries in 1899.

The report, based on information gathered in Chin state, gave numerous examples of the destruction of churches and crosses, the burning of Bibles and restrictions on other religious publications and activities between 1993 and 2004 – including the extrajudicial killings of four Chin Christians in 1993.

Burmese authorities routinely denied permission for the construction of new churches and required permits for large church gatherings, although lengthy bureaucratic processes meant that most of these gatherings were eventually postponed or cancelled.

A September 2008 U.S. Department of State report confirmed that Chin state authorities have not granted permission to build a new church since 2003.

As recently as last November, a government official ordered residents of Tayawaddy village in neighboring Sagaing Division to destroy the foundations of a new church building erected by members of a Chin Christian student fellowship. A report in the Chinland Guardian claimed villagers were subsequently ordered not to rent their homes to Chin students or the homes would be destroyed.

 

Enticement to Convert

CHRO’s report gave clear evidence of government support for coerced conversions. For example, the government offered free secular education to several children from impoverished families, only to place them as novice monks in Buddhist monasteries in Rangoon.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs has also sent Buddhist monks to villages and towns throughout Chin state under the Hill Regions Buddhist Mission program, one of several Buddhist missionary initiatives highlighted on the ministry’s website. Chin residents who spoke to CHRO likened these monks to “military intelligence” operatives who worked in partnership with Burmese soldiers to control the Chin people.

According to one Chin resident, “Anyone who doesn’t abide by the monks’ orders is reported to the State Peace and Development Council [Burmese government officials] and punished by the army.”

Another Chin man from Matupi township attended a government-sponsored “social welfare” training session only to discover that it was a propaganda session led by a Buddhist monk.

“In the training we were taught the 17 facts of how to attack and disfigure Christians,” he explained.

The 17-point method encouraged converts to criticize Christian ways of life as corrupting culture in Burma, to point out weaknesses in Christianity, and to attack Christians by both violent and non-violent means.

“We were promised that 1,200 kyats per month [US$190] would be provided to those families who became Buddhist,” the training participant added. That amount of money is significant in the Burmese economy.

The instructor also ensured participants that they would be exempt from “portering” and other forms of forced labor and compulsory “donations” if they converted, and that the government would provide education for their children.

“I became a Buddhist because of such privileges rather than because I think Buddhism is better than Christianity,” the Chin participant told CHRO.

 

Religious Policy Elsewhere

According to CHRO, both the Burmese army and the monks are pursuing an unofficial government policy summed up in three words; “Amyo, Batha, Thathana,” which translates as “One race, one language, one religion” – or Burman, Burmese and Buddhist.

This policy was exemplified by the forced closure in January of more than 100 churches in the capital, Rangoon.

Officials on Jan. 5 invited pastors from more than 100 Rangoon churches to a meeting where they were ordered to sign documents pledging to cease operation of their churches or face imprisonment. About 50 pastors attended, according to Burmese news agency Mizzima.

A CHRO spokesman told Compass yesterday that a significant number of these churches were ethnic rather than majority Burman churches.

In mid-January, officials ordered several other major Rangoon churches to close, including Wather Hope Church, Emmanuel Church and an Assemblies of God Church. (See Compass Direct News, “Burma Clamps Down on Christians,” Jan. 21.)

Officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs in January summoned the owners of buildings where churches met and ordered them not to rent their properties to religious groups, according to another local online news source, the Democratic Voice of Burma.

In the late 1990s, Burma stopped issuing permits for land purchase or the construction of new churches in Rangoon and elsewhere, leading many Burmese Christians to conduct services in rented apartments or office buildings.

The church closure orders may simply be an extension of Burma’s existing religious policies, which elevate Buddhism in an effort to solidify national identity. The country’s population is 82 percent Buddhist, 9 percent Christian and 4 percent Muslim, with traditional ethnic, Chinese and Hindu religions accounting for the rest.

In a 2007 report describing religious persecution throughout Burma, including Chin state, Christian Solidarity Worldwide cited the “Program to Destroy the Christian Religion in Burma,” a 17-point document that had circulated widely in Rangoon. Allegedly authorized by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the program’s first point declared that, “There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced.”

The Ministry of Religious Affairs subsequently pressured religious organizations to publicly condemn CSW’s report and deny all claims of religious discrimination in Burma.  

Report from Compass Direct News