Freedom Urged For Hmong Christian Prisoners in Vietnam

In an appeal today to the Government of Vietnam, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom protests the continued imprisonment of ten Hmong Christians imprisoned for their beliefs in Vietnam. The Center requests their immediate release, along with the immediate release of other religious prisoners, as necessary under basic international human rights law, Vietnam’s own bill of rights, and as a good will gesture during this Easter Season.

The Center’s appeal focuses particularly on ten “forgotten” Christians, whose names are little known outside their home communities in northwest Vietnam’s Lai Chau and Ha Giang Provinces.

Three of the prisoners are elders or leaders of their churches. One of the elders, Ma Van Bay, whose arrest the Center reported on last December 4, remains jailed without benefit of due process since November of last year.

Another prisoner is Mua Say So, the brother of Mua Bua Senh who was beaten to death by provincial and district public security police in Lai Chau Province in August 2002, as reported by the Center at that time. Mua Say So sent open petitions to government officials seeking justice in the case of his brother. Instead, in April 2003, the government sentenced Mua Say So to three years for the murder of his brother and for leveling false accusations against the police.

Others among the Hmong prisoners on the Center’s list have been charged with vague or catch-all offenses, such as “disturbing public order, “taking advantage of religion to take money from the people,” and “resisting a police officer doing his duty.” These highly elastic charges have been commonly used by Hanoi over the decades to trump up criminal cases against religious believers and political dissidents. The Hmong Christians who have been handed sentences are serving prison terms ranging from 18 months to 12 years.

Four of the prisoners – Vang Chin Sang, Vang My Ly, Ly Xin Quang, and Ly Chin Sang – along with a fifth unnamed person, were arrested in November and December of 2003 for disturbing public order in Ha Giang Province. The “Accusation” document, dated February 1, 2004, that has been prepared for their case reportedly provides evidence that the accused “met weekly with 50 to 60 people for six consecutive weeks.” The accused claim that they were meeting for Christian worship and are petitioning that Vietnam’s constitutional provision of religious freedom be respected in their cases.

These arrests are part of a wave of anti-Christian persecution underway in the Hmong areas of Vietnam. The Center reported earlier this month that the Vietnamese military has used drug injections in Lai Chau Province as part of its campaign to pressure Hmong Christians to sign statements recanting their faith

Due to international pressure, Vietnamese authorities now rarely refer to Christianity when discussing charges against religious believers in public. Instead, they use the term “illegal religion.” The Hmong in these provinces converted to Christianity after 1954 when French rule ended and Communist forces under Ho Chi Minh took control of the North. The government only recognizes as Christians those who believed prior to the revolution.

“As long as Hanoi sanctions despotism against religious belief – as evidenced by these and other cases of imprisonment – Vietnam can not be a citizen of the international community of democracies and should be considered among the worst repressors of religious freedom in the world,” stated Center director Nina Shea. “These Hmong Christians are among the poorest and most marginalized people in the country and Hanoi mistakenly believes it can get away with torture, deprivation, cruelty and, in some cases quite literally, murder,” Shea stated.

Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom urges the United States government to cite Vietnam on its list of “Countries of Particular Concern” for egregious, systematic, and ongoing religious persecution.