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Police in Vietnam Detain Members of Pastor’s Family

1/9/07 Vietnam (Compass Direct News) – Police burst into the Vietnam Mennonite church and residence of the Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang here at 8:20 this morning, broke up a prayer meeting and arrested 17 people, including his son and elderly mother-in-law.

They were all released at 5 p.m. – after officials had demolished part of the family’s church/residence.

Pastor Quang and his wife were not among those detained. The 17 people had complied with authorities’ request to halt the prayer meeting and exited the building, but nevertheless they were taken into custody and detained at the police station of Binh Khanh Ward, District 2.

Those arrested included the elderly mother of Pastor Quang’s wife, the Quangs’ 12-year-old son Huy, another child named Truc of the same age, and a woman named Thuong who is five months pregnant. The Christians reported that some of the women were crudely grabbed and led by the hair, some people were hit, and some slapped in the face.

At the police station, authorities took the two young boys to a separate room where they hollered at them and threatened them.

While virtually all buildings in the area were constructed irregularly without proper building permits more than 20 years ago, ward authorities have long singled out the Mennonite church and residence for selective enforcement because of Pastor Quang’s advocacy activities.

Police wrote up charges against the detainees and demanded they all explain in writing what they were doing at the Mennonite church and residence.

After the 17 were taken away, a large contingent of police cordoned off the street and then entered the church compound to “enforce the law.” They demolished a floor of the building above the meeting room, as well as a kitchen and bathroom at the back of the building.

Threat to ‘Get Even’

In July of 2005, just before Pastor Quang was released from prison, authorities similarly tore down the top floor and back lean-to because of alleged violation of a building permit. The destruction threatened the structural integrity of the building.

Authorities did not back off of their requirements even while the building permit issue was being contested. Last year Pastor Quang went forward anyway, reconstructing and strengthening the demolished parts of the building. Authorities did nothing to stop the building activity. Even when he became active with protest political activities last year – in the 8406 Democracy Movement and the Alliance for Democracy and Human Rights – officials left him alone.

Observers believe that higher officials prevented local authorities from harassing the Mennonites in the run-up to the high-profile Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting last November and the U.S. decision to remove Vietnam from its list of the world’s worst violators of religious liberty. The U.S. State Department took Vietnam off the blacklist on November 13, and the country was awarded Permanent Normal Trading Relationship with the United States , thus allowing its full accession to the World Trade Organization.

House church leaders reported to Compass last October that authorities had told them they would “get even” with Pastor Quang in early 2007, shortly after the high-profile international events had passed.

“While the authorities can hide behind the fig leaf of building permits, most people here understand this as ‘get even’ time,” one church leader in Vietnam said.

Even church leaders who do not approve of Pastor Quang’s political advocacy said they were disappointed. They fear this new demonstration of force shows the government’s continued ill intentions toward the Christian community.

Another Vietnamese church leader ventured that this action was a government test to see what kind of support Pastor Quang and his church will get from the international community – churches and governments, peers, and the fledgling democracy movements that he has supported.

As Pastor Quang had posted the government’s threats to carry out this action on the Internet last week, observers saw the enforcement actions as brazen and heavy-handed.