Published: 16:00 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 04 April 2011
Vietnam slammed for persecution of hill-tribe Christian minority
Country/Region: Vietnam, South and East Asia
The Vietnamese government has been “steadily tightening the screws” on the country’s hill-tribe Christians – imprisoning members, closing churches and forcing believers to renounce their faith publicly.
This was the verdict of a report about the treatment of the Montagnards published last week by Human Rights Watch.
The group said that more than 350 members of the hill-tribe minority, who live in the central highlands, have been sentenced to long prison terms since 2001, and at least 250 remain in prison or are awaiting trial. They are accused of worshipping in unauthorised churches or violating vague national security laws.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said:
Montagnards face harsh persecution in Vietnam, particularly those who worship in independent house churches, because the authorities don’t tolerate religious activity outside their sight or control.
The Vietnamese government has been steadily tightening the screws on independent Montagnard religious groups, claiming they are using religion to incite unrest.
Although the Montagnard Christians are largely non-political today, the government perceives them as a threat, because many from the tribe fought alongside American troops in the Vietnam War and some continued to resist Communist rule.
The report said:
By making peaceful dissent and unsanctioned religious activities criminal acts, the Vietnamese government disregards fundamental rights.
Officials have employed coercion to pressure Montagnards to renounce their religion and pledge their loyalty to the government and the Communist Party of Vietnam.
Vietnam is officially atheist; religious groups must register with the government and operate under approved guidelines. Any religious activity deemed to cause public disorder, harm national security or “sow divisions” is banned.
Many Montagnards distrust government-sanctioned churches and opt instead to worship in unregistered “house churches”. Large numbers from the traditionally animist tribe have converted to Christianity over the past half-century.
Other unregistered religious groups also come under harsh government pressure; officials break up gatherings, confiscate literature, destroy buildings and detain members on charges of violating national security.
As a result of its findings, Human Rights Watch called for the U.S. State Department to reinstate Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” for violating religious freedoms. It was removed in 2006 after two years when the U.S. was satisfied with the Vietnamese government’s moves to loosen restrictions.