06/27/2012 Vietnam (CDN) – Vietnamese officials in Muong Cha district, Dien Bien Province, destroyed two new church buildings of ethnic minority Hmong Christians this month and threatened to tear down a third.
The Ho He Church, erected in April by the unregistered Vietnam Good News Mission, was demolished on June 17. The Phan Ho Church of the registered Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North) was destroyed on June 13, 2012. The church threatened with demolition, The Cong Church, also belongs to the Vietnam Good News Mission.
These congregations of 500 to 600 people, which began as house churches, had long outgrown even the largest home, so the Hmong had sacrificed and worked to erect wooden worship buildings. As local police, paramilitary forces and other authorities descended on the church buildings by the dozens, the Christians could only watch with deep sadness and frustration as the houses of worship were reduced to rubble and government promises about freedom of religion were again broken, area sources said.
The Hmong Christian movement in Vietnam’s Northwest Mountainous Region has grown from nothing to some 400,000 believers in the last two decades. The Hmong Christians remain under heavy government suspicion and are regularly objects of harassment and sometimes outright persecution.
According to a trusted Compass source, these incidents, among other things, demonstrate the dysfunction of the government’s church registration regime. New regulations on church registration were promulgated in 2004 and 2005, ostensibly to expand religious freedom and move Vietnam from an ideological opposition to religion to a managerial approach.
Particularly promising was the Prime Minister’s Special Directive No. 1 Regarding Protestantism. It promised quick registration for local congregations to carry on religious activity while larger issues were being worked out.
Since this legislation appeared, nine Protestant denominations have received legal recognition. They report that the disclosure required in the registration process, however, has led to more government scrutiny and has not reduced long waiting times for routine permissions.
Yet more than half of Vietnam’s Protestants remain unregistered, with many seeing their prospects for becoming legally recognized as hopeless. Hundreds of congregations have tried to apply for registration under the Prime Minister’s Special Directive, only to have officials simply refuse to accept the applications. Others who apply to register are told they cannot because they are not legal, or that they can’t register because there are no Christians where they live.