VIETNAM: AUTHORITIES PRESSURE NEW CHRISTIANS TO RECANT


Converts from ancestral animism threatened with violence, imprisonment.

HO CHI MINH CITY, November 21 (Compass Direct News) – In violation of Vietnam’s new religion policy, authorities in Lao Cai Province in Vietnam’s far north are pressuring new Christians among the Hmong minority to recant their faith and to re-establish ancestral altars, according to area church leaders.

Local authorities have warned that on Sunday (Nov. 23) they will come in force to Ban Gia Commune and Lu Siu Tung village, Bac Ha district, where the Christians reside, but they did not say what they would do.

When the authorities in Bac Ha district in Vietnam’s Northwest Mountainous Region discovered that villagers had converted to Christianity and discarded their altars, they sent “work teams’ to the area to apply pressure. Earlier this month they sent seven high officials – including Ban Gia Deputy Commune Chief Thao Seo Pao, district Police Chief A. Cuong and district Security Chief A. Son – to try to convince the converts that the government considered becoming a Christian a very serious offense.

Christian leaders in the area said threats included being cut off from any government services. When this failed to deter the new Christians, they said, the officials threatened to drive the Christians from their homes and fields, harm them physically and put them in prison.

When the Christians refused to buckle under the threats, a leader of the Christians, Chau Seo Giao, was summoned daily to the commune headquarters for interrogation. He refused to agree to lead his people back to their animistic beliefs and practices.

Giao asked the authorities to put their orders to recant the Christian faith into writing. The officials declined, with one saying, “We have complete authority in this place. We do not have to put our orders into writing.”

They held Giao for a day and night without food and water before releasing him. He is still required to report daily for “work sessions.”

In September, Hmong evangelists of the Vietnam Good News Church had traveled to the remote Ban Gia Commune where it borders Ha Giang province. Within a month, some 20 families numbering 108 people in Lu Siu Tung village had become Christians and had chosen Giao to be their leading elder.

Rapid growth of Christianity among Vietnam’s ethnic minorities in the northwest provinces has long worried authorities. There were no Protestant believers in the region in 1988, and today there are an estimated 300,000 in many hundreds of congregations. As recently as 2003, official government policy, according to top secret documents acquired by Vietnam Christians leaders, was the “eradication” of Christianity.

Under international pressure, however, a new, more enlightened religion policy was promulgated by Vietnam beginning in late 2004. Part of the new approach was an effort to eliminate forced renunciations of faith. The provisions and benefits of such legislation, however, have been very unevenly applied and have not reached many places such as Ban Gia Commune.

Vietnam’s Bureau of Religious Affairs prepared a special instruction manual for officials in the Northwest Mountainous Region on how to deal with the Protestant movement. Published in 2006 and entitled “Concerning the Task of the Protestant Religion in the Northwest Mountainous Region,” this document included plainly worded instructions for authorities to use all means to persuade new believers to return to their traditional beliefs and practices.

This document directly contravened Vietnam’s undertaking to outlaw any forcible change of religion. Under international pressure, the manual was revised and some language softened, but according to an analysis of the 2007 revision of the manual released in February by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the language still communicates the goal of containing existing Christianity and leaves the door open to actively stop the spread of Christianity.

The Central Bureau of Religious Affairs instruction manual for training officials shows no change to the 2006 document’s core objective to “solve the Protestant problem” by subduing its development, concluded the February report by CSW and the International Society for Human Rights.

The 2006 manual had outlined a government plan to “resolutely subdue the abnormally rapid and spontaneous development of the Protestant religion in the region.”

“Whereas the 2006 manual provided specific legitimacy for local officials to force renunciations of faith among members of less well-established congregations, the 2007 edition imposes an undefined and arbitrary condition of stability upon the freedom of a congregation to operate,” the CSW report says. “Therefore, the treatment of any congregation deemed not to ‘stably practice religion’ is implicitly left to the arbitration of local officials, who had previously been mandated to force renunciations of faith.”

Without a full and unconditional prohibition on forcing renunciations of faith, the report concludes, the amended manual does not go far enough to redress problems in the 2006 original.

Officials in the remote village of Ban Gia felt no compunction to resort to strong-arm methods to halt the growth of Christianity, said one long-time Vietnam observer.

“When a church leader advised the central government of the problem in Ban Gia Commune, the pressure only increased,” he said. “The unavoidable conclusion is that it is still acceptable in Vietnam for officials to force recantations of Christian faith.”

Report from Compass Direct News

LAOS: AUTHORITIES DETAIN 90 CHRISTIANS


Officials crack down in three provinces; some believers held in wooden stocks.

DUBLIN, August 8 (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in Laos have detained or arrested at least 90 Christians in three provinces in recent weeks, including an arrest last Sunday (Aug. 3) of a pastor and two other believers from a house church in Boukham village, Savannakhet province.

Arrests were reported in the southern provinces of Saravan and Savannakhet and in Luang Prabang province in the north.

In one incident on July 21, Compass sources said officials detained 80 Christians in Katin village, in the Tah Oih district of Saravan province, after residents seized a Christian neighbor identified only as Pew and poured rice wine down his throat. The wine flooded his lungs and killed him, according to the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

When mourning family members buried him – an immediate necessity because of the warm climate – and put a wooden cross on the grave, village officials accused them of “practicing the rituals of the enemy of the state” and seized a buffalo and pig from the family as a fine.

A few days later, on July 25, officials rounded up 17 of the 20 Christian families in the village – a total of 80 men, women and children – and detained them in a local school compound, denying them food for three days in an attempt to force the adults to sign documents renouncing their faith.

Three other Christian families in the village had already renounced their faith under increasing pressure from authorities, according to a report from Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).

As their children grew weaker, 10 families signed the documents and on July 30 were allowed to return home. The remaining seven families, however, were evicted from the village and have since settled in an open field outside the village, building small shelters and surviving on food found in the nearby jungle.

 

Arrests in Boukham

The most recent arrests occurred last Sunday (August 3) in Boukham village, Savannakhet. Officials arrested a leader of a house church identified only as Pastor Sompong, during a Sunday worship service at his home, along with two young people identified only as Boot and Khamvan.

HRWLRF reported they were detained at an area police station. On August 2, authorities arrested another villager in Boukham, identified only as Menoy, charging her with “believing in Jesus and worshiping God.”

They handcuffed Menoy and took her to a prison in Ad-Sapangthong district, where she joined two other believers, identified as Kantalee and Loong Peng, who had been arrested the previous day and charged with the same religious offense.

Authorities had previously arrested Pastor Sompong and four other believers from the Boukham church on July 20, detaining them for two days in a prison in nearby Dong Haen. Police stormed into the church that Sunday and ordered the 63 Christians present to cease worshiping or they would face arrest and imprisonment for “believing and worshiping God.”

When the Christians refused to comply, stating that Sunday was a Christian holy day and they must continue worshiping, the police arrested Pastor Sompong and two other church leaders identified only as Kai and Phuphet.

While some of the officers handcuffed the three church leaders and took them to a prison in Dong Haen, other policemen stayed in the village. When the service continued, police entered the house again and arrested a man identified only as Sisompu.

When the believers again failed to cease worshiping, police arrested a 17-year-old girl, identified only as Kunkham, who was actively leading the group. All five Christians were detained in Dong Haen prison with their feet secured in wooden stocks.

Officials charged the five with spreading the gospel and holding a religious meeting without permission. Although the Lao constitution “guarantees” freedom of religion and worship, church fellowships must be registered with government-approved institutions. Such registration comes with strict limitations on the activity of the church, however, and many Christians prefer not to register.

On July 22, three Christians approached the provincial religious affairs office in Savannakhet to challenge the arrest of Pastor Sompong and his fellow church members, asking how the five Christians could be charged for “spreading the gospel” during a worship service.

Officials then released the five on condition that they would cease holding worship meetings. They ordered them to seek permission from village authorities if they wanted to continue meeting together.

Elsewhere, in late July authorities in Saiphuthong district of Savannakhet summoned the pastor of a church in Nachan village and questioned him about the increasing number of villagers who had elected to believe in God.

Compass sources also reported that officials on July 27 detained a family of Hmong Christians in northern Luang Prabang province.

More arrests were reported, but details have yet to be confirmed.

Report from Compass Direct News