Vietnam Expands Persecution of Hmong Christians
July 17, 2003
by Center for Religious Freedom
The Vietnamese government is engaged in a deliberate campaign to coerce minority ethnic Hmong Christians to abandon their faith, Freedom House said today.
Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom has obtained six new petitions provided by Vietnamese Hmong Christians that describe heavy-handed government persecution in Ha Giang Province. The petitions, dated May 15, 2003, describe an expanding government operation to coerce Hmong Christians to recant their faith and to resume the practice of animist rites, a practice they abandoned ten years ago.
The petitions are similar to others describing persecution of the Hmong, though they are the first from Ha Giang Province. The new documents come from the villages of Coc Cang, Trung Thanh, and Xin Khau villages, Che La Commune, Xin Man District in the northwest corner of Ha Giang Province, near the Chinese border. Prior petitions obtained by Freedom House came from Lao Cai and Lai Chau provinces. The new petitions are signed by approximately 200 families and were smuggled out of Vietnam.
English versions and Vietnamese originals of the petitions are available through the Center for Religious Freedom.
Three of the petitions name government officials involved in the persecution. Among those named are military officers and members of public security police from Ha Giang Province, and local People’s Committee and Communist Party Fatherland Front officials. “This broad representation of government, military and police officials points to a comprehensive and coordinated government campaign to carry out persecution of Hmong Christians,” said Center for Religious Freedom Director Nina Shea.
According to the petitions, groups of officials came to the homes of Christian families or summoned the heads of families to the local police station to lecture them that Christianity is an “American religion,” which is ”bad,” “treasonous” and “violates the law.” Officials pressured the Hmong to sign official documents stating they recant their faith. Officials ordered the Hmong to rebuild their ancestral altars and resume spirit worship. The petitions state the Hmong are frequently threatened with loss of government services, schooling, and jobs, if they do not abandon Christianity. In a new development, Christians are no longer given copies of the papers they are forced to sign, possibly to prevent them from sending the papers abroad as evidence of persecution.
One petitioner writes, “My family lives with great worry and under great stress, and our inspiration to live is being destroyed”. Another petitioner writes, “I was arrested two times, but no matter how long I will be imprisoned, whether I live or die, I will never lose faith in Jesus Christ….”
In their petitions, the Hmong Christians, aware that Evangelical Christianity is legally recognized for ethnic Vietnamese, ask the top Party and State leaders why the same freedom is not available to them.
“While Hanoi pays lip service to religious freedom, out of the public eye it wages a primitive campaign of forcing the Hmong—some of the country’s most economically disadvantaged, physically isolated and thus vulnerable, Christians—to give up their faith and take up another,” said Shea. “This is happening in province after province and is directed against Hmong whose only wish is to follow their conscience. Their willingness to work peacefully to assert their rights is evidenced in the respectful but insistent tone of the petitions. The authorities actions are reminiscent of the darkest days of communist totalitarianism,” she said.
Vietnam’s Hmong Christians are denied their right to individual religious freedom, including the right to change their beliefs, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent government agency, recommended that Vietnam be designated a “country of particular concern” for egregious, ongoing and systematic religious persecution. The Center for Religious Freedom joins the Commission in urging Congress to pass the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2003.
Freedom House urges the Administration to ensure that Vietnam does not qualify for the new Millennium Challenge Account, the new foreign assistance fund announced by the Bush Administration to reward democratic behavior. “Vietnam’s record on religious freedom, and its blatant disregard for all forms of human rights clearly disqualify it from being considered a potential recipient of MCA funds,” said Shea. “A decision to reward Vietnam would make a mockery of the Administration’s stated commitment to reward genuine democracy and human rights progress.”
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