Wednesday, December 1, 2021

RLPB 626. Vietnam: Great Suffering Amidst Deepening Darkness

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 626 | Wed 01 Dec 2021
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by Elizabeth Kendal

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Christians comprise 9.43 percent of the population of Vietnam (Catholics, 7.7 percent; Protestants, 1.3 percent; plus Independents). Since the 1990s, conversions to Protestant Christianity have escalated markedly among the ethnic minorities of the Central Highlands as communities have gained access to Gospel radio and scriptures in their own languages. Despite their minority status, Vietnamese Christians are massively over-represented among the country's pro-democracy and human rights advocates and activists. Unfortunately, religious freedom is but a mirage: it appears in the Constitution but is eviscerated by law. The Communist regime justifies its persecution by falsely accusing Christians of crimes against national security: e.g. 'undermining the unity policy' (penal code Article 116) and spreading anti-state propaganda [i.e. negative/critical reporting] (penal code Article 117). Vietnam's revised national security laws (enacted January 2018) and its new Cyber Security Law (enacted January 2019) have made getting information out of Vietnam a very risky business, especially as Vietnam develops into a heavily militarised surveillance state.

PRISONERS: The Vietnam Human Rights Network's 2020-2021 report lists 288 prisoners of conscience. Among them is Protestant pastor and religious liberty advocate Nguyen Trung Ton (50). Ton was arrested at his home in Thanh Hóa, north Vietnam, on 30 July 2017 and charged with 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration'. On 5 April 2018 a Hanoi Court sentenced Ton to 12 years in prison [RLPB 450 (11 April 2018)]. Before his arrest, Ton was abducted and severely beaten with police batons, leaving him with serious leg injuries [RLPB 479 (31 Oct 2018)]. Denied medical care, Ton's legs have never healed, leaving him barely able to walk. Also on the list is music teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh (45). Tinh was arrested at his home in Nghe An, north Vietnam, on 29 May 2019 [RLPB 509 (3 July 2019)]. On 15 November 2019 a lower court in Nghe An sentenced Tinh to 11 years in prison and five years house arrest for 'conducting propaganda against the state', ostensibly for Facebook posts deemed 'anti-state'. Authorities have repeatedly refused Tinh (a devout Catholic) access to a priest. In March 2021 Tinh's wife raised concerns about his deteriorating health - specifically joint pain, decaying teeth and kidney stones. 

The Central Highlands provinces of Dak Lak, Gia Lai and Phu Yen have long been a hot-bed of repressive and violent persecution of ethnic minority Christians. Hmong and Montagnard/Dagar Protestants are routinely, and without justification, treated as subversives and separatists. Persecution includes intimidation, harassment, threats, violence and Cultural Revolution-style kangaroo courts where believers are publicly shamed and pressured to 'confess their crimes' and renounce their faith. The Campaign to Abolish Torture in Vietnam lists 79 'Montagnard Prisoners of Conscience Serving Prison Sentences and House Arrest Amounting to Eight or More Years'. All are Christians - Catholics and Protestants. Most are pastors, priests and religious liberty advocates. Some have been tortured and many are suffering failing health. Almost all have been charged with 'undermining the unity policy' (penal code Article 116). Of particular concern is the prisoner Y Yich. A Montagnard Protestant from Gia Lai, Pastor Y Yich was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to 12 years in prison plus three to five years' probation for 'spreading Dega [Montagnard] Protestantism, using the internet to communicate with Montagnard pastors and "FULRO reactionaries" [i.e. Montagnard Protestants] in the US and meeting with other former prisoners of conscience' (under penal code Article 116). Previously imprisoned from 2006-2011, Pastor Y Yich is in poor health due to torture in detention, high blood pressure, rheumatism and stomach inflammation.

Reverends Loan and Tan 

In May 2021, just as Vietnam's devastating fourth wave of COVID-19 was taking hold, a couple who attended a meeting of the Revival Ekklesia Mission (REM) in Ho Chi Minh City, tested positive for COVID-19. Though the meeting comprised a mere 11 believers (everyone else was participating on-line) and the church had been meticulous in its adherence to health orders, the government seized the opportunity to attack Protestant Christianity. In an appalling case of malicious scapegoating, the REM church was blamed for the outbreak and criminally charged with the crime of 'spreading dangerous infectious diseases in humans' (penal code Article 240). REM's leaders have been publicly blamed and shamed on state-run media and social media. On 14 October police in Go Vap District questioned REM's pastors - the Reverend Vo Xuan Loan and her husband, the Reverend Phuong Van Tan - after 11 other REM members were also interrogated. Aware the regime will be loath to back down and lose face over the issue, Christians are hoping for a face-saving solution, such as the church being fined for an administrative COVID-19 rule infraction rather than a criminal conviction.


* continue to build his Church in Vietnam; as repression intensifies and the darkness deepens, may many Vietnamese awaken to the moral depravity of atheism, the deadness and insufficiency of false religion, and the sufficiency of the living Christ to transform and renew.

* intervene for the dozens of Christians cruelly incarcerated in horrific conditions simply for leading unregistered house churches, speaking out against injustice and corruption, and/or promoting righteousness, liberty, and human rights. Lord in your mercy, encourage, sustain, and deliver them! (Psalm 146)

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

* encourage and bless Pastors Loan and Tan, of Ho Chi Minh City's Revival Ekklesia Mission, and fill them with peace. We pray also for their attorney, Dang Dinh Manh, that the Lord will equip him and use him, that justice may prevail.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5b-7 ESV)


In Vietnam, religious freedom exists in theory but not in practice. The Communist regime views un-registered house churches and ethnic minority Christians as threats to the nation's unity and security. The regime targets these Christians - Catholics and Protestants - with intimidation, vilification, harassment, police brutality and Cultural Revolution-style 'kangaroo-courts' where they are publicly shamed and forced to 'confess their crimes' and renounce their faith. Dozens of Christian pastors, priests and religious liberty advocates are serving long prison terms having been falsely accused of 'misusing religion' to violate national security laws. Some have been tortured; many are in failing health. Vietnam's revised national security laws (enacted January 2018) along with its new Cyber Security Law (enacted January 2019) have made getting information out of Vietnam a very risky business. Please pray.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Research at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom Inc (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).