(Morning Star News) – Police in Vietnam on Wednesday (Nov. 12) employed thugs wielding hammers and metal cutters to ransack a church center and drag away nine Christians, who were then charged with not having proper papers – documents officials had confiscated from them in previous raids.
The toughs – accompanied this time, inexplicably, by provocatively attired prostitutes – arrived just before midnight, screaming and intimidating Christians staying at the center in Ben Cat, Binh Duong Province north of Ho Chi Minh City. An older woman of the congregation asked police if these women were their usual allies in carrying out their duties, leaders of the Mennonite church center said.
Police stood by filming the attack.
Two Mennonite pastors and the son of pastor Nguyen Hong Quang were among those arrested, threatened and interrogated for two hours before being released and charged with not having their ID cards and temporary residence papers. The documents had been confiscated during earlier raids and not returned, church leaders said.
Not having these papers leaves them subject to further police harassment and difficulties with employment and school studies. The nine Christians have been summoned to return for further interrogation.
The church completed repairs of a broken fence, gate and doors at the center on that day following attacks on Sunday and Monday (Nov. 9 and 10).
The unregistered Mennonite Church led by Pastor Quang has been regularly attacked by police and gangs since June. At times authorities have also cut off the center’s water and electricity. Another Mennonite church whose leadership has avoided criticism of the Vietnam’s human rights record is registered and has few problems.
Having distributed detailed reports on many of the attacks on the Mennonite church, Pastor Quang and other church leaders issued an emergency, worldwide appeal following Wednesday night’s attack.
The appeal asserts that a steady stream of attacks and injustices over five months has built a strong sense of helpless indignation among the Christians. Attacks usually come on weekends but sometimes continue for days. In addition, since Oct. 25 roads approaching the Mennonite center have been blocked and Christians coming for worship harassed. One Christian who had his nose broken and bloodied on Oct. 25 required emergency medical attention.
“They send gangs and thugs, strangers, masked people, and police of various units to harass and arrest us during the day and the night, when we worship, when we pray, when we have Bible study, when we have children’s classes, when we eat together, when we have school ceremonies,” states the report, signed by Quang and four others identified only as Hung, Hong, Thach and Du. “They use bricks and stones to damage our building, and they pelt us with rotten eggs.”
All members of the church are subject to attack – pastors, elders and lay Christians – not only at the church center but also at their homes or workplaces, the report notes, adding that officials stole 8.5 million dong (US$394) from one Christian.
“They employ police of the 113 unit, rapid response police, security police in plain clothes, gangs and thugs, all taking turns to harass and threaten us,” the report states. “Thirty-four people have been injured, some to the point they had to be taken to hospital emergency. Pastor Quang was attacked in the church sanctuary in June by a gang with police and officials looking on, not lifting a finger to intervene.”
Those most culpable are Binh Duong Police Chief Lt.-Gen. Vo Thanh Duc and Chairman of the Binh Duong Provincial Peoples’ Committee Le Thanh Cung, the appeal states.
“With this emergency appeal, we strongly condemn the police of Binh Duong Province for their brazen oppression,” it states. “We appeal to all Vietnamese people, at home and abroad, all international human rights organizations, news organizations here and abroad, to help spread this news to the human rights community, and to all governments concerned about human rights, and to U.N. organizations concerned with protecting human rights, to help end the evil being perpetrated by the Binh Duong police and government officials.”
The church leaders state that they hope the relevant Vietnamese government agencies will conduct an independent investigation into the violations of law, the threats to life and property and infringements of basic human rights.
“We hope that members of our faith community everywhere will pray for our Mennonite church in Binh Duong at this time,” they conclude.
Pastor Quang has served several stints in prison for his human rights and religious liberty activism. Since his last release in 2005, he has concentrated on church work and says he has eschewed activism, but officials still harass him.
The appeal notes that the recent round of trouble for the Mennonites started just before the visit in July of U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religion and Belief Heiner Bielefeldt. Bielefeldt cut short his visit in protest when he found those he was interviewing about religious freedom were being harassed by officials both before and after his visits with them. The rapporteur’s report was highly critical of the Vietnamese government policies and practices regarding religion.
Christians in Vietnam believe the extent and intensity of persecution of the Mennonite group show the extreme concern and even hatred that authorities have for anyone with a reputation for bold truth-speaking.
Pastor Quang discovered that authorities were circulating a document stating he was an active member of an opposition, and therefore illegal, political party. Some speculate that he was accused of using China’s oil rig incursion into Vietnam’s territorial waters last spring to criticize the Vietnamese government of weakness. The Mennonite leader denies these accusations.
Knowledgeable sources say that if he were guilty of any of these infractions, he would have been arrested by now.
For his part, Pastor Quang said, “It’s quite clear that Vietnamese Communists are intent on eradicating our Mennonite church.”
In a related development, at press time Morning Star News learned that arrested ethic minority pastor Dinh Nhat Minh Khao was under interrogation, and that he was under pressure to open his email and Facebook accounts and print them out as a means of “confession.”
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