Vietnam: Persecution persists despite some hopeful signs

General fr 11/06/2008


Since missionaries arrived in Vietnam in the 16th Century,
Christianity has played a significant role in national development.
Overseas assistance in education and humanitarian sectors has
contributed greatly to national development and still does. Despite
this legacy of goodwill, Christians have historically experienced
various forms of pressure and persecution. In the 19th Century,
rulers were fiercely determined to wipe out every vestige of the
Christian faith. Yet the Church survived these and subsequent
persecutions over the years.

Today Christianity is followed by eight percent of Vietnam's 85
million, worshipping in everything from formally government-
recognised denominations to unrecognised evangelical house churches
which comprise more than half the Protestant church. Recent years
have seen some improvement in religious freedom, church recognition
and small steps toward relaxing restrictions. In June 2004 the
nation's Constitution was amended with an ordinance that allowed
for freedom of religious belief and prohibits violation of this
freedom.

Though promising, this progress is regarded by many as just a
shallow means to an end to obtain US and international trade
accords as well as the removal of Vietnam's religious liberty
status as a 'Country of Particular Concern' (CPC) by the US State
Department. On the eve of the Asia Pacific Economic Conference in
November 2006, Vietnam was removed from the CPC list, despite
evidence of continued abuses, imprisonments and restrictions on the
Christian community which continue today.

In the May cover letter of the US Commission on International
Religious Freedom's annual report (< www.uscirf.gov >) special
attention was placed on the degradation in religious liberty issues
in Vietnam. The Commission made a strong recommendation for Vietnam
to be again classified as a CPC, based on 30 pages documenting
findings of continued repression of religious freedom, especially
within the Christian community. The Commission noted that since CPC
status was lifted and World Trade Organisation membership was
achieved, 'religious freedom trends have not kept pace' with
improving international economic relationships. Moreover, the
Commission noted 'uneven' improvements in the light of continued
abuses and restrictions, including believers imprisoned for their
faith.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the repression of believers in
the Central Highlands and Northwest provinces. Whilst there has
been progress in provincial authorities extending permission for
churches to operate and officially register, there remains varying
levels of persecution at a house church level. Security officials
are known to place believers under close surveillance, exert
pressure to sign pledges to abandon the Christian faith, impose
arbitrary fines of up to half-a-year's wages and arrest those found
meeting for worship and prayer. During a recent meeting with Dr
Geoff Tunnicliffe, World Evangelical Alliance International
Director, church leaders raised the confiscation of 265 church
properties as a matter for urgent prayer. In addition, believers
have suffered loss of personal property and family inheritance due
to their faith in Christ.

Though all believers can be subject to such treatment, ethnicity is
a notable factor. Protestants from the minority ethnic groups such
as the Montagnard and Hmong continue to be the frequent target of
harsh crackdowns like the recent May repression of Montangnard
believers as reported by Human Rights Watch. Several hundred
Montagnard believers are imprisoned throughout the country.

Before his last arrest in 2004, Nguyen Hong Quang, a lawyer and
Mennonite pastor, gave a friend these words of encouragement: 'The
Church is now on stormy seas but the boat still goes out. The Lord
enables us to row together. Be at peace. I ask you and the Church
to pray for us.' Despite temporary lulls, turbulent conditions
continue but the Vietnamese Church presses on nonetheless. May
their courage not melt away but remain all the more resolute in the
unfailing love and faithfulness of the One who stills the storm
(Psalm 107:29).

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR -

* those detained for practising the Christian faith: in addition
to Christian advocate Nguyen Van Dai, remember all who silently
count the cost of their faith in difficult prison conditions
country-wide, including Montagnard and Hmong believers; may they
and their families not feel abandoned.

* church property confiscated by government authorities to be
returned, remembering also believers who have suffered the loss
of personal and family property.

* heightened respect for religious freedom, that local authorities
will relate to the Church with consistency and impartiality and
national leaders will commit to promoting religious freedom; may
international governments relate in a framework of authenticity
and truth.

~~~~

SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PERSECUTION PERSISTS IN VIETNAM DESPITE SOME HOPEFUL SIGNS

Vietnam's Christian history dates back to the 16th Century, but
still struggles over freedom of religion. Despite some recent
positive steps with national decrees supporting religious freedoms
as well as the government recognising some denominations and
churches, difficulties persist. Security officials put believers
under close surveillance, exert pressure to sign pledges to abandon
the Christian faith, impose arbitrary fines of up to half-a-year's
wages, confiscate properties and arrest those found meeting for
worship and prayer. Believers from ethnic groups such as the
Montagnards and Hmong especially suffer such treatment and
imprisonment. Please pray for the Vietnamese Church amidst these
challenging circumstances to express love, wisdom and vigilance to
those in authority and to the communities which it faithfully
serves.

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This RLP was prepared by a member of RLC's contributing editorial
team. Elizabeth Kendal, our regular researcher and writer, is
working on other assignments.

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