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Property of Hre Christians in Vietnam Burned Down

A year after destruction in central province, believers’ homes again set ablaze.

HO CHI MINH CITY, April 3 (Compass Direct) – Less than a year after believers in Vietnam’s central Quang Ngai province saw some of their dwellings destroyed, a mob burned down five homes of other Hre minority Christians in the legally-recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South).

Church leaders believe local authorities either allowed or instigated the burning of the five homes owned by Hre Christians in Son Tinh Commune, Son Tay district of Quang Ngai province, on the morning of March 7.

Additionally, two believers who had rebuilt area homes destroyed in July 2005 (See Compass Direct, “Vietnamese Authorities Burn Down Christians’ Homes,” September 16, 2005) had their outbuildings for storing paddy rice burned on March 4. Dinh Van Heo lost 55 sacks of rice, and Dinh Rop lost 30 sacks in the deliberately set fires.

Heo had recently faced severe pressure to recant his faith, sources said.

A war veteran living in Son Tinh Commune, Dinh Van Viet, is suspected of leading the violence against the Christians. Before the most recent attacks, a number of veterans burst into the home of an area Christian, with one of them, Dinh Van Vay, shouting to a woman, “What is your baby’s name?” When the woman replied that her child’s name was Dinh Ruto, (Ruth), Vay slapped her hard and said, “You [expletive] are an American!”

The woman remained in her home. But nine families, fearing trouble the next day, fled to Son Ha District and took refuge in the home of evangelist Dinh Van Hoang – whose previous home local authorities had incited a mob to burn down last August 21. On March 7 the homes of five of the families who fled were burned, and the other four were raided and all property of value was stolen.

On March 18, officials of the Son Tay District Bureau of Religious Affairs came with a vehicle and transported the nine families back to Son Tinh Commune. But the officials did not offer the families any assistance or reparation.

Neither the leader of the anti-Christian mob, Dinh Van Viet, nor any of the others who participated in burning the houses and the rice stores, has been charged or prosecuted. Church leaders said this was the usual outcome, and that it was clear that local government officials had allowed the destruction if not instigated it.

Evangelist Hoang and his family, who took in the fearful Christians, have suffered years of persecution – including being chased from their home at least eight times, several times after their house was set on fire. Following the publicity brought to the burning of the homes of 10 Hre Christians last August by Radio Free Asia, official Vietnamese news agencies slandered evangelist Hoang and fabricated stories about the circumstances of the arson attacks.

The negative international publicity, however, apparently came to the attention of some high authorities, and Hoang was finally given permission to build a house. He had reported to church officials just days before last month’s house burnings that Dinh Van Heo, an elderly man of about 70, faced danger after resisting strong pressure to recant his faith.

Ironically, in nearby Son Ha District, the lead evangelist in the area, Dinh Tan Vinh, received permission for the first time to organize a large celebration involving over 4,000 Christians last Christmas day. There are now about 6,500 Christians of the Hre ethnic minority, most having become believers since 1994.

A senior church leader in Vietnam told Compass, “When the perpetrators of such direct persecution of tribal Christians suffer no consequences, it makes it very hard for other Christians to believe that our country is sincere in its promises to improve the situation for religious people.”

An international expert on Vietnam added, “Such actions, unchecked and not prosecuted, will greatly complicate Vietnam ’s efforts to get off the Country of Particular Concern [CPC] list of the U.S. State Department.”

Vietnam , one of 10 countries identified among the worst religious liberty violators, has been on the CPC list for two years.