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3/25/2024 Vietnam (International Christian Concern) Pastor Y Bum Bya was found dead under mysterious circumstances on March 8. Publicly declared a suicide by local authorities, the pastor’s death is under scrutiny from evangelicals around the world. 

A native of Vietnam, Y Bum Bya pastored the Evangelical Church of Christ in the Central Highlands in Dak Lak Province. Facing persecution for many years, he was beaten by local authorities in December of 2023 as they attempted to force him to leave his church. Police confiscated his phone and threatened to beat him to death if he did not follow their commands. 

After he was severely beaten and further threatened, Y Bum Bya denounced his church and his actions on the publicly broadcasted Dak Lak Security and Order Program. One international news source reported that the pastor was “not allowed to approach friends and relatives and was not allowed to use a smartphone because he had previously used it to take photos and videos, and then report (government violations) to the international community.” 

Enduring similar persecution throughout the year, it was not irregular when Y Bum Bya received a call from the police on March 8. According to a public announcement made by the Evangelical Church of Christ branch in South Carolina, the police called Y Bum Bya to request a meeting where they could return the previously confiscated telephone. 

When he arrived at his home, the police refused to discuss the issue and insisted on moving the matter to a nearby cemetery. After the pastor went missing for an hour, locals discovered his body hanging from the dome of a tomb in the cemetery. 

Y Bum Bya’s friends and relatives expressed shock and disbelief regarding the accusations of suicide. One friend told reporters, “He was a very gentle man, very faithful to the Lord. People who are faithful to God will never dare to commit suicide because committing suicide is no different from killing someone else. They really hate this man. Second, their purpose of killing him was to threaten the remaining members of the Evangelical Church of Christ. For many years now, they have wanted to eliminate the church.” 

According to the U.S. International Religious Freedom Report of 2022, the Vietnamese constitution provides freedom of religion but also holds many restrictions on the practice and organization of religion. Mentioning the Evangelical Church of Christ in Dak Lak specifically, the U.S. State Department wrote, “Government officials in different parts of the country reportedly continued to monitor, interrogate, arbitrarily detain, and discriminate against some individuals … Authorities reportedly demanded those detained to cease affiliation with unregistered religious groups and to refrain from providing ‘negative’ reports to international organizations.” 

While the Vietnamese government promotes the façade of provision of religious freedom, realities such as the repeated beating and denunciation forced upon Pastor Y Bum Bya demonstrate the lack of freedom faced by devout religious figures. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken placed Vietnam on the Special Watch List in the 2023 religious freedom designations. However, many in the international community, particularly in Vietnam, have called for a more severe designation as a Country of Particular Concern in 2024. These designations allow the U.S. to publicly condemn particularly severe violations of religious freedom and justify further action according to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. 

We pray that a true and lawful investigation into the death of Y Bum Bya will occur in Vietnam. We pray that the Evangelical Church of Christ in Dak Lak province and around the world would feel the support of Christians everywhere. We pray that the Lord will enact his divine justice in Vietnam. We praise God for his enduring love and fatherly love. 

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