By BosNewsLife Asia Service
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)– Vietnamese security forces have destroyed two churches of minority Hmong Christians in northwestern Vietnam and threaten to tear down a third, a Christian news agency said Wednesday June 27.
Compass Direct News, citing local Christians, said the violence happened this month in Muong Cha district of Dien Bien Province, which has been the scene of previous anti-Christian violence.
The Ho He Church, erected in April by the unregistered Vietnam Good News Mission, was demolished on June 17, while the Phan Ho Church of the registered Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North) was destroyed, Christians said.
Another church building threatened with demolition, The Cong Church, reportedly belongs to the Vietnam Good News Mission denomination.
Police, paramilitary forces and other authorities descended on the church buildings “by the dozens” and believers could only watch with “deep sadness and frustration” as the houses of worship were reduced to rubble, Christians explained.
Hmong Christians said government promises about freedom of religion were again broken.
There was no immediate reaction from Vietnam’s government.
Christian observers say the latest reported violence underscores concerned over the church registration regime in the Communist-run Asian nation.
Over half of Vietnam’s Protestants remain unregistered and several churches have given up hope they will be legally recognized.
Hundreds of congregations have reportedly tried to apply for registration, but officials reportedly refused to accept their applications.
Others who apply to register are told they cannot because they are not legal, or that they can’t register because there are no Christians where they live.
Hmong Christians have been targeted by security forces before in the province, BosNewsLife reported earlier.
This year eight ethnic Hmong tribesmen remained were sentenced to 30 months imprisonment for what the government called “disturbing social order and inciting separatist unrest last year.”
Supporters say the Christian defendants were participating in a religious convocation that allegedly ended in a “massacre” blamed on Vietnamese security forces.
The official Vietnam News Agency, in a report monitored by BosNewsLife at the time, called the defendants “illiterates” who “admitted to not knowing the illegal nature of their activities.”
Presiding Judge Phan Van Nam has been quoted by news reports as saying police were hunting for three ringleaders.
The prison terms, given in March, came nearly a year after widespread unrest in the region near the border with Laos.
Vietnamese security forces beheaded pastors and shot to death “many” other Hmong Christians who gathered to await Jesus Christ’s return after a false prophecy by an American preacher, according to a leading advocacy group’s leader at the time.
James Jacob Prasch, executive director of Moriel Ministries (MM), said in July, 2011, that the massacre was the horrific aftermath of shortwave broadcasts by Harold Camping of California-based Family Radio.
Camping, 90, claimed that Christ would return to Earth to “rapture” his followers to heaven on May 21 as mankind had run out of time.
Following the broadcasts, some 7,000 Hmong Christians attempted to gather “on a mountain praising God” in late April and early May, but instead found “police and military police” who slaughtered “many of them at gunpoint beheading two pastors,” Prasch told supporters in an electronic message to supporters obtained by BosNewsLife.
Activists said dozens were killed, but Prasch maintained that number may be even higher.
Christians say there is a long history of mistrust between the government and many ethnic hilltribe groups, collectively known as Montagnards, as many of them were allied with the U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.
Vietnam has been reluctant to allow independent journalists to investigate the clashes.
In Vietnam’s Dien Bien province the 170,000 Hmong represent about one-third of its population. The Hmong make up just over 1 per cent of the wider Vietnamese population, but many reportedly earn as little as 100 dollars a year, less than a tenth of the average annual income. (With BosNewsLife Research, and BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).