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Press Release — March 18, 2003

Vietnamese Church Under Severe Persecution, Only Two House Churches Remain Open in the Central Highlands

(March 18, 2003) A team from International Christian Concern, a Washington-based human right’s organization, has just completed a fact-finding trip to Vietnam. The team met in 10 cities with 21 of the 54 ethnic groups living in Vietnam.

Christians living in the Central Highlands in the provinces of Lam Dong, Dac Lac, Gia Lai, Kon Tum and from areas north of Hanoi report that persecution is worse than it was at the end of 2002 however, the church continues to grow. In Dac Lac, out of a total of 417 house churches, only 2 remain open. Previous reports indicated that 56 pastors were missing and their families did not know where they were being held or imprisoned. ICC could not verify how many pastors or leaders were missing in the Central Highlands. However, team was able to verify that two out of the eleven imprisoned Hmong pastors have been released.

The pastors and leaders in the Christian community of Vietnam describe facing two major problems. The first problem is police interrogations. Pastors or leaders are issued a formal “invitation” to appear at the police station for questioning. This is not an optional invitation but a mandatory requirement. This harassment can last up to a day or two and is designed to make the pastors nervous so that they will stop their religious activities. Even the wives of pastors are targeted. One official told a preacher’s wife, “We always know where your husband is.” The second difficulty is the lack of privacy. Pastors are constantly followed. One Hmong pastor told ICC, “I leave my house at 2:00 a.m. to sneak out of the village and I travel by foot for 3 hours in order to preach. At 9:00 p.m., I start for my return trip and arrive back home at midnight.”

In addition, many leaders frequently said that the church’s greatest difficulties were that their church lacked a place to meet, and that the church parishioners were unable to openly witness to their faith.

Confirmed reports establish the fact that the government continues to deny jobs to believers as well as cut off benefits to the elderly and disabled who are Christians. Some are even beaten to the point of requiring a doctor’s care after converting.

One pastor said, “We do not pray that God changes the situation but that the church be strong to endure and stand. God is always faithful.”

Christians are urged to write their legislators to support Rep. Smith’s upcoming bill, “Vietnam Human Rights Act” which will seek to prohibit non-humanitarian U.S. aid from being provided to Vietnam unless their government shows significant progress in freeing religious and political prisoners and respecting the rights of the ethnic minorities.

International Christian Concern is a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC that advocates on behalf of Christians persecuted for their faith. More information is available on the ICC web site at www.www.persecution.org or by calling 1-800-ICC-5441.