(Morning Star News) – In February, sustained night-time attacks by “villagers with the hand of the government behind them” in Vietnam’s Central Highlands destroyed the homes and thousands of coffee plants of ethnic Sedang Christians. Eventually four families in Ngoc La village, Tumorong District, Kontum Province – 19 people in all – were forced to flee for their lives.
They were taken in by the president of their Christian Mission Church, who lives in Kontum Province, where they remain to this day (see Morning Star News, Feb. 26).
After various levels of the government received numerous pleas and written petitions for redress, in May officials promised a solution was imminent. A Christian in contact with the displaced Christians said Tumorong officials and provincial police began negotiations with them in May.
“They said that they would prepare land and house for our brothers and sisters to come back to Tumorong, but not to the village where they used to live before the persecution,” the source said. “Right now, the local governor officials are trying to find a place for them in another village, but no one accepts. They want to go back to their original village, but the village requires them to deny their faith if they want to come back. In short, there is no clear answer or solution, yet now though there are some word promises from the government.”
He said the displaced Christians are confused and at a loss as to what to do next, adding, “Please pray for them.”
Not surprisingly, authorities who themselves allowed and encouraged violent and destructive persecution of the Christians are unwilling or unable to take decisive action against the perpetrators and provide security for aggrieved Christians. And their superiors up the line will not discipline them.
In Gia Lai, Dak Nong Province, officials have been even more recalcitrant. On March 17, 38-year-old Hoang Van Ngai was beaten to death in police custody. Loved ones provided detailed descriptions of the maltreatment the Christian leader received, including photos, in the widely publicized case (see Morning Star News, April 9).
Advocates presented the case to high Vietnamese government officials in Hanoi in Washington, D.C., Brussels, Geneva and London. To my knowledge, none of these inquiries has received the courtesy of a reply.
The day after the death, even as the battered corpse was returned to the family, police improbably pronounced it “a suicide by self-electrocution.” This misinformation was later repeated by higher officials. Categorically denying the suicide explanation, family members submitted several urgent petitions, calling for an investigation and justice for the murderers.
There was no response for two months. A church leader close to the situation reported that in mid-May authorities notified the family that their investigation had confirmed the suicide by self-electrocution. Ngai’s wife, four children and extended family are utterly frustrated and do not know where to turn.
In this case, neither wide negative publicity, nor persistent local petitions to various levels of government by next-of-kin, nor third-party intervention at the highest diplomatic levels resulted in a serious investigation, let alone some justice for the surviving family of the police-murdered Christian and community leader.
Cavalier and callous, even Vietnam’s highest authorities appear to stand by the original police cover-up story that the beating death was suicide by self-electrocution. Vietnam’s nonchalance and stonewalling in this clear and egregious case bodes poorly for religious freedom, for the rule-of-law, and for the ability of the international community to influence human rights change in Vietnam.
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