Christians in Vietnam Church Center Beaten, Locked Up in Massive Raid
The Vietnamese government systematically suppresses religious freedom. According to ICC’s partner BP SOS during an interview, Vietnamese government clamps down on underground churches, arrests pastors, and supports state-sectioned churches where the government appoints government officials as “pastors” and controls messages. In this way, Vietnamese government could hide the violation of religious freedom from the world and present the “growth” of state-churches whose head is the government, not Christ.
06/24/2014 Vietnam (Morning Star News) – Blaring police loudspeakers awoke Bible school students at a Mennonite church center in southern Vietnam at about 11 p.m. the night of June 9, a prelude to a night of violence and detention that would seriously injure 20 people.
Police called for the owner of the compound in Binh Duong Province to let them in for an “administrative search.” Five minutes later, police dropped into the compound from neighboring roofs and broke through the front gate “as if it were a raid on terrorists,” according a witness.
The crowd of police, local defense forces and plainclothes officers and “citizens” numbered from 300 to 500, according to the center’s pastor, Nguyen Manh Hung. Many of the 76 Christians present were beaten, punched and kicked before being loaded onto three trucks and hauled to a police lockup for interrogation. They were released the following morning.
Night attacks on the church compound, however, continued the next three nights and sporadically since then with the intent of terrorizing the Christians. The original raid was largely directed by the chief of police of Ben Cat, unidentified only as Major Hoa. A detailed 14-page church report described his conduct throughout as “consistently crude and abusive.”
The Vietnam Evangelical Mennonite Church is one of many unregistered church organizations in Vietnam. It has suffered more persecution than most because its leader, the Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang, has long been an outspoken advocate for religious and other freedoms and for defenseless, oppressed ethnic minority Christians. He has been previously arrested, abused and jailed and has often been viciously vilified and slandered in state media. Another Mennonite church group that does not bring up government abuses of religious freedom received government registration in 2007.
Following the government demolition of the Mennonite Center in District 2 of Ho Chi Minh City in December 2010 in a contested city renovation project, pastor Quang reestablished his center in Binh Duong Province’s Ben Cat City, in Thai Hoa, Ward 6. His decision to tone down his confrontational advocacy only increased his time to supervise the expansion of Mennonite congregations countrywide. The group claims about 5,000 followers.
The new center in Ben Cat has thus become a very busy place. It is the church headquarters and serves as a school for various kinds of training, from summer Bible school for young children to theological training for senior leaders.
According to Vietnam’s restrictive laws, local officials must be notified of any overnight guests, whether staying in a home, an institution or a hotel. The Mennonites have learned to abide by this regulation but have sometimes notified officials of an event with an estimated number of participants and then submitted the exact list of names after the participants arrive, when precise information is available. In this case students arrived on June 9, and the report would have been submitted June 10.