By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)– Despite international condemnation a Mennonite pastor remained behind bars Saturday, April 14, after a Vietnamese court sentenced him to 11 years imprisonment for allegedly creating division between the Communist government and its people.
Nguyen Cong Chinh, 43, had been writing and spreading materials that slandered authorities,communicated with “reactionary groups” and incited ethnic minorities to commit wrongdoing, state controlled media claimed.
The state-backed English language Viet Nam News paper called the pastor an “anti-Government agitator” and cited the People’s Court of the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai as saying that the evidence against the church leader “was clear”.
“Chinh had relations with some reactionary organizations and violated the law from 2004 to 2011, disregarding warnings and fines from the local government,” the newspaper commented.
Though “Chinh did not realize what he had been doing was wrong” he “kept following an illegal path, which badly affected the local security and stirred discontent in the public,” the court reportedly said.
“He distorted the domestic situation, calumniating the government, the state and the army in interviews with the foreign media,” and organizations in and outside the country, Viet Nam News quoted the court as saying.
It was not immediately clear whether the pastor would be able to appeal the sentence.
Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have linked the sentence to the pastor’s Christian activities and his fight for religious freedom.
The court acknowledged in its verdict that Chinh “claimed that people had been falsely accused and imprisoned for purely religious activities” including members of the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races which judges reportedly described as a “reactionary organization.”
He was also reported to have made “an urgent notice to the US consular” alleging that Buddhism follower Thach Thanh No was killed while practicing his religion, the court said in a statement published by Viet Nam News.
However “according to investigations, No, a Khmer man from the southern province of Tra Vinh, fell off his motorbike under the influence of alcohol and died in April 2009,” the paper said.
It added that of “all 22 documents seized at Chinh’s house, 19 showed divisive propaganda between local authorities, the armed forces and the public, driving a wedge between Viet Nam and other countries with the aim of opposing the Vietnamese state.”
HRW said however that the pastor’s conviction adds to the government’s “continuous disregard for religious freedom.” Footage seen by BosNewsLife appeared to show police mistreatment of the pastor. Officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
In Vietnam, the Communist government allows only state approved churches. The Mennonite church is outlawed in the Asian nation.
HRW said the government continues to restrict “religious practices through legislation, registration requirements, and harassment and surveillance.”
Religious groups, HRW explained, “are required to register with the government and operate under government-controlled management boards. Despite allowing many government-affiliated churches and pagodas to hold worship services, the government bans any religious activity that it arbitrarily deems to oppose “national interests,” harm national unity, cause public disorder, or “sow divisions.”