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Christians Suffer as Vietnam Crackdowns on Freedom of Expression

A Special Report by ICC

05/23/2013 Washington D.C.
(International Christian Concern) – One of the few remaining communist countries in the world, Vietnam is aggressively trying to stifle the cry of its people for increased human rights and freedoms, consequently furthering the persecution of Christians.

On Jan. 9, thirteen peaceful Catholic activists were sentenced to between three and 13 years’ imprisonment on charges of undertaking “activities aimed at overthrowing” the government. Another activist was given a suspended sentence.

Among the activists are students, bloggers, community workers and supporters of prisoner of conscience. One of them, Cu Huy Ha Vu, was imprisoned last April for allegedly “spreading anti-state propaganda” after calling for a multi-party system in online articles, according to Amnesty International.

On Dec. 3, 2012, a Vietnamese human rights defender, Ho Thi Bich Khuong, was reportedly attacked and beaten up by a group of prisoners. She was serving a five-year prison term for “conducting propaganda” against the state. On Dec. 29, 2011, she was convicted for giving interviews to the foreign media that were allegedly critical of the government, and for producing, storing, and distributing documents that were considered to oppose the state, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In 2012 alone, dozens of peaceful dissidents were imprisoned, with many sentenced to long prison terms in trials that failed to meet international standards. In September that year, three popular bloggers were tried for “conducting propaganda” against the state and sentenced to between four and 12 years’ imprisonment – the trial lasted only three hours.

In December 2011, Nguyen Van Lia, a 71-year-old who raised international awareness about the situation faced by fellow-members of the Hoa Hao Buddhists was sentenced to five years in prison for distributing “anti-government” propaganda.

Intentional, not Incidental
The marked increase in the arrests of religious activists and human rights defenders appears to be more intentional than incidental. “Last year saw the Vietnamese government step up its crackdown on government critics and peaceful activists. The convictions of the 14 activists illustrate a deeply worrying trend, and suggest that the crackdown is set to continue in 2013,” according to Amnesty International’s Researcher Rupert Abbott.

This pattern of suppressing the freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly is characteristic of the communist state, which has been persecuting anyone who questions government policies, exposes official corruption or calls for democratic alternatives to one-party rule, according to HRW’s 2013 World Report on Vietnam.

Dubbed as the “enemies of the internet” by Refworld, UN’s Refugee Agency, Vietnam’s crackdown on freedom of expression is particularly troubling to Christians, who are seen by the communist country as a foreign religion, subversive to the state by its very existence. Evangelical Protestant churches are especially seen as influenced by the U.S., vulnerable to Western ideology and subversive to the political power and authority of the single-party communist State.

Montagnard, Hmong People
Although religion is permitted in Vietnam, it is regulated, making the church vulnerable to persecution, which ranges from the beating of clergy, churches kept under police surveillance, key worshippers being interrogated, social discrimination and incidents of forced land confiscation and forced renunciations of faith.

In a 2011 report, HRW detailed how security forces used violence, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture, as well as forced public renunciations of faith and declarations of allegiance to the state, against indigenous Montagnards. HRW further reported that since 2001, more than 350 Montagnards had been imprisoned for public protests, attending unregistered house churches or trying to flee to seek asylum in Cambodia.

In 2011, Vietnamese authorities continued to use violence and intimidation in the central highlands and north-west provinces, especially against Protestant ethnic minorities and others conducting “unsanctioned” religious practices, according to Refworld’s 2012 Report on Vietnam.

The Hmong people, who constitute less than 1 percent of the population, are singled out for persecution because in addition to being Christians they fought against the communists during the Vietnam War. In April 2012, it was reported that thousands of Hmong Christians began protesting in the north-west province of Dien Bien. This was met by a violent response from the military, with unconfirmed reports of numerous deaths and injuries.

As the communist state discovers the power of the internet, its people are suffering the consequences of its insecurity. The state is determined to snuff out the voice of dissension by taking any means necessary to intimidate its people from crying out for more rights and a better Vietnam. But unless Vietnam reorders its priorities and places human rights above its own interests, it will only be furthering the demise of its reputation in the global community.

As Ryan Morgan, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, says, “Vietnam will never be able to integrate fully into the global community while elements of its government continue to harass, arrest, imprison, and even murder followers of Christ who are bold enough to express their religious beliefs.”

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