Vietnamese officials destroy two new church buildings Third worship place
threatened with demolition
Vietnamese officials in Muong Cha district, Dien Bien Province, destroyed
two new church buildings of ethnic minority Hmong Christians this month and
threatened to tear down a third.
The Ho He Church, erected in April by the unregistered Vietnam Good News
Mission, was demolished on June 17. The Phan Ho Church of the registered
Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North) was destroyed on June 13, 2012. The
church threatened with demolition, The Cong Church, also belongs to the
Vietnam Good News Mission.
These congregations of 500 to 600 people, which began as house churches,
had long outgrown even the largest home, so the Hmong had sacrificed and
worked to erect wooden worship buildings. As local police, paramilitary
forces and other authorities descended on the church buildings by the
dozens, the Christians could only watch with deep sadness and frustration
as the houses of worship were reduced to rubble and government promises
about freedom of religion were again broken, area sources said.
The Hmong Christian movement in Vietnam’s Northwest Mountainous Region has
grown from nothing to some 400,000 believers in the last two decades. The
Hmong Christians remain under heavy government suspicion and are regularly
objects of harassment and sometimes outright persecution.
According to a trusted Compass source, these incidents, among other things,
demonstrate the dysfunction of the government’s church registration regime.
New regulations on church registration were promulgated in 2004 and 2005,
ostensibly to expand religious freedom and move Vietnam from an ideological
opposition to religion to a managerial approach.
Particularly promising was the Prime Minister’s Special Directive No. 1
Regarding Protestantism. It promised quick registration for local
congregations to carry on religious activity while larger issues were being
Since this legislation appeared, nine Protestant denominations have
received legal recognition. They report that the disclosure required in the
registration process, however, has led to more government scrutiny and has
not reduced long waiting times for routine permissions.
Yet more than half of Vietnam’s Protestants remain unregistered, with many
seeing their prospects for becoming legally recognized as hopeless.
Hundreds of congregations have tried to apply for registration under the
Prime Minister’s Special Directive, only to have officials simply refuse to
accept the applications. Others who apply to register are told they cannot
because they are not legal, or that they can’t register because there are
no Christians where they live.
If the registration request is received, sources said, it often goes
unanswered for years, contrary to time limits for government reply in the
legislation. Christian leaders who have long tried to register their
congregations say that fewer than 5 percent have been granted permission to
carry on religious activities.
As a result, sources said, large numbers of congregations remain subject to
various kinds of harassment and sometimes arbitrary closure. Authorities
tell denominational leaders they may not visit their churches, or even
their pastors, because they are not legal.
The large Catholic Church in Vietnam regularly finds its congregations in
tension with local authorities. On June, 18, for example, the archdiocese
of Vinh published on a Catholic website a letter, directed to all levels of
government, about the persecution of Christians in Chau Binh Commune in
Nghe An Province.
When a priest arrived in the commune to bless a new home, many officials
gathered to prevent the ceremony. They shouted abuse at the Catholics and
hurled rotten eggs at an altar prepared for the house-blessing ceremony.
The following night, thugs invaded the home of Tran Van Luong, a Catholic
who had dared object to the officials’ conduct, and beat him, his wife and
three others, sources said.
The five required emergency medical aid, and Luong’s wife was still
drifting in and out of consciousness at the time the letter was written.
The letter from the archdiocese specifies in detail how the officials’ conduct violates the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the
constitution of Vietnam, as well as Vietnam’s new religion legislation and
its criminal code. It concludes with an appeal for a prompt investigation
to provide justice.
Rarely does the government of Vietnam respond to such petitions, sources
said; instead, it often vilifies the petitioners.
An official news release on a high-level meeting about the effectiveness of
the Prime Minister’s Special Directive No. 1, issued on Feb. 28 in
Vietnamese, was likely more telling than intended; the official
English-language report on the meeting used other language entirely. In the
Vietnamese version, an official of the Government Committee on Religious
Affairs said the directive had provided a “breakthrough” in the
government’s management of religion by “limiting the unusually rapid
development of the Protestant religion.”
Thus, the very instrument that was publicized locally and internationally
as proof of Vietnam’s liberalizing religion policy apparently had contrary
At the same meeting, a deputy prime minister announced the appointment of
General Pham Dung of the Ministry of Public Security as the new head of the
Government Committee on Religious Affairs. According to Vietnamese
Protestant leaders, this was not a heartening development.
Vietnam was ranked 19th on the 2012 World Watch List of the 50 countries
where persecution is worst.