Wednesday, June 17, 2009

009. Vientam: greater destruction as persecution escalates

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 009 | Wed 17 Jun 2009


Vietnam introduced a series of economic reforms in the 1990s. Subsequently diplomatic relations were established with the US in May 1995. Vietnam's goals were to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and have the US grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status. However, as a prerequisite to this Vietnam had to improve its religious liberty. So Vietnam presented a better image and in May 2006 it joined the WTO and in December 2006 the US granted it PNTR status. But strategists who believed that economic reforms (even those made purely in pursuit of wealth) would lead to political and human rights reform have been proved wrong, as have all who thought Vietnam's promises of religious reforms were genuine. The Communists are demolishing confiscated church properties at an escalating rate (see RLP 496, 17 September 2008) and persecution is on the increase.

CATHOLICS: The government has recently demolished two Catholic properties in the far south -- the monastery of The Sisters of St Paul of Chartres in Vinh Long, and the monastery of the Congregation of the Brothers of the Holy Family in Long Xuyen. A Catholic school teacher, Miss Nguyen Thi Bich Hanh (28), was recently fired for encouraging children to use the Internet. According to state-run media (1 June), Miss Nguyen is accused of 'taking advantage of her teaching position to disseminate counter revolution thoughts . . . .' AsiaNews reports (12 June) that authorities in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak recently ordered Dominican priest Fr Peter Nguyen Van Phuong to cease ministry as 'there is no need for religion'. Also, Fr Peter Tran Dinh Lai in Nghe An Province, who is 'well liked by his 2,500 parishioners', has been warned that his life is in danger since he refused to obey government directives to stop his parishioners attending the prayer vigils. On 6 June Redemptorist Fr Joseph Le Quang Uy was held at the airport, interrogated and his computer seized.

PROTESTANTS: Vietnam's Central Highlands are home to around one million indigenous ethnic Degars (also known as Montagnards, Yards or Moi). More than half are Protestant and some 200,000 are Catholic. Vietnam's persecution of the Degars is severe with many believing it constitutes ethnic cleansing. The authorities want to exploit Degar lands, so they use intensive ethnic and religious persecution to drive them away. On 11 March the authorities demolished the historic Degar Church in Buon Ma Thuot, capital of Dak Lak Province. As the first church established for the Degar people, it was especially precious to them as the site from where Christianity spread across the region. On 1 May more than 86,000 Degars from 375 villages and five provinces in the central highlands stayed home to mourn the loss of their church and to pray for the nation.

The fate of Degar woman Puih H'Bat -- a house church leader arrested on 11 April 2008 for refusing to register with the state-sanctioned Evangelical Church of Viet Nam -- is still unknown. She has four children (aged 7-19) and her husband is a refugee in the USA. The authorities' secrecy over her whereabouts causes great concern as torture and fierce brutality against Degar believers is commonplace, with several having been tortured to death in recent years.

On 13 June 2009 the authorities arrested Le Cong Dinh (41). He is one of Vietnam's most respected lawyers and has represented a number of pro-liberty and pro-democracy advocates including religious liberty advocate Nguyen van Dai. Like Dai, Le Cong Dinh is to be charged under Article 88 of the Criminal Code for 'colluding with domestic and foreign reactionaries to sabotage the Vietnamese State'. According to State media, Le's crimes include the charge that he 'took advantage of his work as a defence lawyer for a number of reactionary elements like Nguyen Van Dai . . . turning their trials into "forums" against the State'.


* all Vietnam's imprisoned Christians -- church leaders (such as Puih H'Bat in the Central Highlands), lawyers (such as the evangelical religious liberty advocate Nguyen van Dai in Hanoi) and many other faithful believers both Catholic and Protestant -- that they will be sustained physically, emotionally and spiritually by the Spirit of the Lord; for justice and that God will encourage and provide for their families.

* the Spirit of God to awaken Vietnamese society to the deception, oppression, brutality and injustice of the Communist system; may this actually point many to Christ (just as in China).

'He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.' (Luke 4:18b NIV) Christ is the hope of Vietnam -- and we are Christ's ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20).

* the Church in Vietnam, that God will continue to build and sanctify her for his glory and in preparation for a future with freedom.



Across all Vietnam persecution against both Catholics and Protestants is escalating. Communist authorities have recently demolished two Catholic monasteries in the south and an historic Protestant church in the Central Highlands. In the north Catholics continue to be harassed in Hanoi where the evangelical religious liberty advocate Nguyen van Dai also remains incarcerated. Indigenous Degar house church leader Puih H'Bat, a mother of four whose husband is a refugee in the USA, was arrested in April 2008 and her fate is still unknown. This is of grave concern as Vietnamese ethnic and religious hatred of Degars is intensive and several have been tortured to death. Vietnam seeks to present an international facade of religious freedom but the reality is entirely different. Please pray.