Vietnam Intensifies Religious Persecution against Hmong Christians
Hmong Christian leader, child of Hmong Christian elder beaten to death; state pledge to recant Christian faith surfaces
October 1, 2003
by Center for Religious Freedom
More evidence of the Vietnam government’s harsh campaign to press minority ethnic Hmong Christians to renounce their faith is being released today by Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom.
The Center for Religious Freedom has obtained two new petitions and other reliable reports evidencing continued harsh religious persecution against Christians in Ha Giang Province along Vietnam’s northwestern border with China. Among the documents is a never-before-released report of the beating death of Hmong Christian leader, Vang Seo Giao, on July 1, 2003, by commune-level officials. The Center has also received a copy of the government-issued pledge form that Hmong Christians are being forced to sign renouncing their faith. The documents show that local officials can adopt the most brutal measures with absolute impunity in complying with national directives to eradicate Christianity from tribal areas. Provincial- and national-level government bodies have failed to hold anyone accountable for even the murder that occurs in the course of this ongoing campaign.
Vang Seo Giao was killed and his body deposited in a nearby river on July 1 after he refused demands by Che La commune officials to renounce his Christian beliefs. Reports indicate that the authorities had been drinking heavily before the murder. Public Security police of Xin Man District, called to investigate the murder, concluded that Vang Seo Giao had been beaten to death and did not die from alcohol poisoning as local officials claimed. However, despite multiple appeals by family members, Vietnam has not taken action to bring to justice those implicated.
The Center for Religious Freedom has obtained a petition written by Vang Seo Su, the victim’s younger brother, and sent to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam based in Hanoi. The letter lists the names of the three offending officials, as well as eight witnesses to the murder. The suspects named by the witnesses are: Chang Van Sin, Chairman of the Commune People’s Committee, Ly Van Long, Commune Communist Party Secretary, and Nguyen Dinh Trong, Deputy Duty Officer of the Commune.
According to local Christians, a special unit of the Public Security police came to the district last February to enforce an anti-Christian campaign. They have gone from house to house pressing residents to sign a pledge not to follow Christianity, which the pledge describes as the “illegal religion” that leads to “divisions” within the country. In the pledge, Christians are warned that those who refuse to recant their faith by signing it will receive a “much stronger judgment according to the law.” Furthermore, they must pledge to reestablish their “ancestral altar according to the customs and traditions of the Hmong people.” A copy of this form has been obtained by the Center and a translation is available on our website (www.freedomhouse.org/religion). Heads of households who signed the pledge form were reportedly offered incentives such as sheets of metal roofing and money.
Vang Seo Giao was a Communist Party member in good standing who had converted to Christianity and joined the Evangelical Church of Vietnam. According to reports, he was singled out for harsh treatment to break his will because he was a key leader and had influence in the community. Local officials have reportedly threatened the community that two more Christians leaders in the Xin Man District where Vang Seo Giao resided will meet the same fate if the Christian community there persists in following Christianity.
Vang Seo Giao ’s murder comes less than a year after the beating death of another Christian Hmong leader, Mua Bua Senh, on August 7, 2002, at the hands of police in Vietnam’s northwestern Lai Chau province for refusing to sign a government pledge renouncing his faith. [Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom first reported on that case and released photos of his bruised body on November 7, 2002.]
Hanoi Evangelical Church leaders received a separate petition from Giang Van Sinh of the same community as Vang Seo Giao, dated July 15, 2003, that also describes pressures from the local government to renounce Christianity. Mr. Giang states that his Party membership of 33 years was revoked in December 2000 because he had opposed the revolution by following the “religion of the American Empire” and thus broken the law. Reportedly those recent expelled from the Party for their Christianity were simultaneously dismissed from government jobs.
The Center for Religious Freedom received a second petition, dated May 30, 2003, from Giang Thanh Phia, a Hmong Christian elder and father of three children in Hoi Cha Village, Muong Nhe Commune, Muong Nhe District, Lai Chau Province, stating that his 10-year-old son Chong went missing and subsequently was found murdered on April 4, 2003, while the father was “afraid” and in hiding from a government “Work Team 184” during an anti-Christian crackdown. A separate report on the case explains that a government delegation, operating under Official Plan 184, had come to the village at the time of the murder to carry out its mandate to stamp out Christianity. [In 2000 and 2001, the Center had released a trove of secret, official Vietnam directives that detailed the creation of a bureaucratic infrastructure for a program, called “Official Plan 184,” to eradicate Christianity among tribal minorities.] The commune chairman reportedly refused appeals to properly investigate the case, stating “For that kid, no one will go anywhere. If a Christian dies, that’s all there’s to it. Bury them like an animal. There is nothing to solve.” Eventually border police were allowed to investigate and reported to the provincial level Public Security police their findings that there had been foul play, with the child’s body bearing bruises and puncture marks. Christian villagers have identified a suspect in the case and believe that the boy was murdered because he refused to tell a local man where his father was – information the man apparently wanted to pass on to the Plan 184 work team. There has been no further state action to bring justice in the case despite the fact that church elders appealed directly to Hanoi authorities.
Center for Religious Freedom director Nina Shea will present the Hmong Christian petitions, the state pledge form and other documents today in testimony before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam. Ms. Shea commented, “These cases show a pattern of delegated repression in which local officials are allowed to employ the most barbaric means of their choosing to carry out national directives to suppress the Christian religion among the Hmong. Higher ups in Hanoi simply look the other way and maintain plausible deniability. The U.S. State Department must designate Vietnam as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ under the International Religious Freedom Act. There can be no doubt that the repression against the Hmong is directed against their identity as Christians and that it is ‘systematic, ongoing and egregious.’ Vietnam ranks among the most repressive governments in the world with respect to religious freedom.”
Last month, Hanoi sentenced the niece and two nephews of Catholic priest Fr. Thaddeus Van Ly to between three and five years’ imprisonment for passing information about the priests case to international human rights advocates. The priest himself was sentenced in 2001 to 15 years of imprisonment for calling for greater religious freedom in his country in testimony he submitted to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Most recently, on September 29, 2003, the Vatican press Zenit reported that Hanoi has refused to recognize Pope John Paul II’s appointment of Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man as the new cardinal of Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam is currently a candidate for increased U.S. assistance funds through the new Millennium Challenge Account. Freedom House believes that given the Vietnam government’s overall human rights record, and its abuse of fundamental religious liberties that Vietnam should clearly be disqualified.
Click here to view the full list of Press Releases.