By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)– Several Protestant Christians in Vietnam, including Degar-Montagnards, were uncertain Monday, June 22, where to worship as government forces raided and destroyed churches in recent weeks, church sources and rights investigators said.
In the country’s Central Highlands, Christians anticipated more arrests after police reportedly summoned a dozen people involved in last month’s three-days of mourning and prayers following the recent destruction of the first church of the Degar-Monagnards, a mainly Christian ethnic group.
Over 80,000 Degar-Montagnards in the area and abroad stayed home between May 1 and May 4. “We did not go anywhere for three days and three nights, to mourn for our church because we have failed in protecting our Historical Church at Buon Ale ‘A’ [area] in the city of city of Buonmathuot in the Central Highlands,” said Montagnard Foundation Incorprated (MFI), which supports the Christians.
Government work crews destroyed the Protestant church building of Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South), or ECVN(S), in the area of Banmethuot in March, advocacy group MFI and Christians said.
Authorities already had confiscated the church building in 1975 after the Communist victory following the Vietnam War, and had removed its cross. After the demolition, the ECVN(S) said in a resolution that its “Executive Council…is extremely upset and in deep sympathy with the 135,000 believers in Dak Lak province.”
Police reacted by summoning at least a dozen of hundreds of Degar-Montagnard believers in the village of Buon Puortara, who were among those participating in the massive prayer and mourning event, MFI told BosNewsLife.
They were released the same day, on May 13, but MFI said it feared more arrests amid an apparent crackdown on Christian worship outside the official churches in the Communist nation.
“The police told [the detained Christians] “From now on you are not allowed to worship and pray to your God. These Christians answered: “We will not stop worshiping and praying to our God. Besides, your government has agreed to give religious freedom to all Vietnamese citizens according to international laws. You can persecute us or do anything you want to us because you have power over us but our Lord God has power over you,” MFI explained.
However the crackdown is not limited to the Central Highlands, at a time when the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party views the unrestricted spread of Christianity as a threat to its power base and ideology, Christians said. Police reportedly also invaded the Sunday service of the Agape Baptist congregation in Vietnam’s Hung Yen Province on June 7, allegedly beating worshippers, including women, while arresting a pastor and an elder.
Christian sources said police put the two church leaders into separate cells, and each man was beaten by a gang of five policemen. Pastor Duong Van Tuan of the house church in Hamlet 3, Ong Dinh Commune, Khoai Chau district said that officers beat them in a way that did not leave marks: hard blows to the stomach.
The beatings reportedly came in retaliation for Pastor Tuan refusing to leave the area as police had ordered, Christian sources said. He and the church elder were reportedly released later that evening.
The congregation in Hung Yen, a small but populous province that straddles the Red River 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Hanoi, has endured harassment and attacks by police and other officials since April, reported Christian news agency Compass Direct News. Police officers apparently also disrupted worship services on April 19, bloodying Pastor Tuan’s mouth with punches, and also on May 24 and 31.
Vietnamese officials have in the past denied wrongdoing, calling MFI reports part of Western Propaganda” against the Communist-run state. Rights groups say however that many Christians and political activists continue to be detained, including in prison camps, where inmates have complained about alleged harsh treatment.
In published remarks seen by BosNewsLife, political and religious prisoners incarcerated at Xuan Loc – Dong Nai prison camp in Vietnam, complained of crimes that the Vietnamese Communist Party allegedly commit through its prison system.
“They systematically persecute and mistreat political and common prisoners alike,” and “due to their long sentences many deaths happened in the prison camp,” prisoners said in a declaration that was apparently smuggled out of the camp.
Among “various solitary confinement techniques” have been “restricting movements and contacts with other prisoners to the maximum,” beatings, restricting health care access, and limited food supplies.
“Cooking is totally restricted, prisoners are not given cooking fuels, causing them undue hardships, particularly those whose family have little or no support and are unable to make frequent visits, leading to the deterioration of inmates’ health,” they said.