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02/06/2024 Vietnam (International Christian Concern) — International Christian Concern and human rights groups are calling for the immediate release of Vietnamese Christian Nay Y Blang after he was recently sentenced to more than four years in prison for allegedly holding prayer meetings at his home.

Blang, 48, is a member of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ which is not an official religious group authorized by the Vietnamese Communist Party. Christians outside of the government system face greater scrutiny and often false charges for their faith.

The court found Blang guilty of “abusing democratic freedoms and belief freedoms to entice and incite others to infringe upon the interests of the State, legitimate rights and interests of agencies, organizations, and individuals.”

As is commonly the case in socialist states, Vietnam allows some semblance of religion in the form of tightly controlled registered religious groups. Authorities require that groups seeking official approval follow an invasive multi-year registration process and avoid any activities considered contrary to national security and unity—a vague requirement that gives authorities a great deal of latitude to restrict religious activity.

While registered groups face myriad restrictions, unregistered groups and Christians experience an even more sinister type of repression backed by a legal framework that criminalizes their very existence. Leaders and members of these groups, including many protestant Christians, are subject to spurious legal charges, arrest, and even physical assaults. In some cases, authorities withhold critical identity paperwork such as birth certificates from members of these unregistered groups, effectively making them stateless according to a 2023 report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Religious persecution is particularly severe in the more rural areas of Vietnam and for members of ethnic minorities, such as the Hmong and Montagnard ethnic communities. Local authorities seem emboldened to harass them with charges under many laws, and local communities are often intolerant of their religious sentiments.