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7/5/2024 Vietnam (International Christian Concern) — Eleven Vietnamese Christians who were imprisoned for religious activity and religious identity in the Southeast Asian nation are missing, prompting concerns over the treatment of detained Christ followers in Vietnam. 

The 11 men, consisting of six Protestants and five Catholics, were sentenced, at different times, to a combined total of 90 years and eight months in prison dating back as far as 2011 and as recently as 2016. Now, their whereabouts are a mystery. 

Protestants Ro Mah Pla, Siu Hlom, Rmah Bloanh, and Rmah Khil were accused of “undermining national unity policy” due to their involvement in Degar Protestantism, a religious movement that is unapproved by the Communist Vietnamese regime. 

The Degar people, also known as the Montagnards, are an indigenous tribal people living in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Many Degar individuals were allies of the United States in the Vietnam War and have converted to Christianity. According to the advocacy group Campaign to Stop Torture in Vietnam, “government officials routinely force Montagnard Christians to publicly recant their religion, [and] those who continue to worship in independent house churches face beatings, arrest, and imprisonment.” 

The remaining two Protestants refused to deny Christianity and suffered legal consequences as a result. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported that Protestant Sung A Khua’s home was allegedly damaged, and he and his family were “expelled from their village” when they would not deny their faith in Christ. Though the family was eventually allowed back, Sung was arrested for “deforestation.” or using trees near his residence to “rebuild his home.” Y Hriam Kpa, the other remaining Protestant, was arrested for refusing to close his church and discontinue services. 

The five Catholics, Runh, A Kuin, A Tik, Run, and Dinh Kuh, were also accused of “undermining national unity policy” for participating in the Ha Mon Catholic Church, a church that, like Degar Protestantism, does not have government approval. 

In addition to the missing men, USCIRF has reported allegations of torture and mistreatment of four other imprisoned Christians. 

In 2018, the Vietnamese government instituted legislation known as the Law on Belief and Religion, which regulates religious practice within the nation. While various Christian sects and other religious groups are allowed to practice their faiths, Vietnamese authorities closely monitor their activities.  

As part of the 2018 law, religious institutions, or those wishing to become one, must apply for registration with the government before they may practice any religious activities. 

According to a 2019 assessment from the USCIRF, the process to become registered is “complicated and burdensome” and “requires religious organizations to have operated for five years before applying for registration … and provide extensive information about their activities to authorities.” 

Some pastors working in Vietnam have reported being forced to disclose the number of congregants in their church and the names of those who attend. USCIRF’s assessment also explained that “several pastors reported that their applications had been pending with no formal decision for months or even years, despite a requirement in the law that local officials respond to applications within 60 days.” 

The missing Christian prisoners speak to a larger problem within the Vietnamese legal framework for the nation’s minorities, like the Degar Protestants and Ha Mon Catholics.  

U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wisc., spoke out in 2022 in a statement on two Christian prisoners who had allegedly endured torture at the hands of Vietnamese authorities and about religious persecution in Vietnam. 

“Many Americans do not know the horrors of communism and the human rights abuses that happen daily in communist countries like Vietnam,” Grothman said. “The United States has a role as a leader to promote and defend religious liberty on the world stage, and that starts with denouncing the Vietnamese government for its track record of religious persecution.”

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