By BosNewsLife Asia Service
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)– Christians in Vietnam’s Central Highlands faced suffering on Good Friday as anti-Christian villagers and security forces killed at least one church leader and injured several families, local believers and rights activists said.
In the latest known incident, ethnic Hmong Pastor Vam Ngaij Vaj was beaten to death in police custody, according to Christians familiar with the case.
Police allegedly beat Vam Ngaij Vaj around his neck and shoulders and likely used electric shock on him, resulting in his death on March 17.
Vaj, of Cu Jut District in the Central Highlands’ Dak Nong Province, and his wife were detained while clearing brush from their field in nearby Dak Ha Commune on charges of “illegally destroying the forest” on March 16, Christians said.
Hmong churches in the Central Highlands often report harassment by loyalists of a Communist regime that allegedly views Christianity as a threat. The charges against the couple of “destroying forest” on their own property was seen as consistent with such harassment.
COUPLE IN JAIL
The husband and wife were transported to a police station in Gia Nghia Town and placed in separate cells, Christian sources said.
That night Vaj was reportedly mistreated by police and the next day local authorities informed his younger brother that he had died.
Tensions already rose in the Central Highlands, home to several ethnic minority Christians, last month when mobs reportedly threw bricks and roof tiles at houses of Christian converts and destroyed personal belongings.
Several families were also injured in the February 18-22 nightly attacks, explained investigators of Barnabas Fund, an advocacy group.
“One family had to flee into the forest after being threatened with death if they stayed in their home,” Barnabas Fund said.
ENFORCING RELIGIOUS POLICY
There was no immediate response from authorities, but the government has made clear it wants to enforce a clear religious policy.
On January 1 the government announced it had updated controversial religious legislation, known as the Decree on Religion 92/2012 ND-CP, meant to clarify rules written in 2005.
Local Christians have complained that it confirms Vietnam’s intent to control the spread of religion, especially Christianity.
For the dozens of house-church denominations that began to emerge in 1988, there is still no clear path toward registration, according to local church leaders.
Registration has been implemented inconsistently, leaving more than half of Protestants still unregistered and vulnerable to arbitrary harassment and oppression, Christians said.
Additionally, evangelical Christians have been reluctant to register themselves with authorities, calling it an effort to manipulate especially house churches and other newer congregations.