The crime scene was a simple village school in central Vietnam's Quang Ngai Province. The time was late 1997. A group of 12-year-old children were talking about a teacher from a nearby village who had come and told them stories about Jesus. Some of the children had decided to become Christians, and they began telling others about their discovery—until one of the teachers reported this "dangerous" activity to the local police. The police gathered the offending children and told them that they must stop talking about this "foreign superstition."

Though subdued for a couple of days, the children soon resumed their "Jesus talk." It wasn't long before the police again showed up at the school and picked out the three "ringleaders." These children were taken to a police camp and held incommunicado for a full week. The pleas of their parents for their immediate release fell on deaf ears.

When the children were released, they told how they were deprived of food and water for long periods of time, had been interrogated for hours, were pressed to reveal the identity of the teacher who had told them the stories, and had been lectured about the stupidity of the superstitions they believed. The boy who most resisted the questioning had had his head held under water in the toilet until he almost drowned. The families of the children were told that because their children had persisted in the religious faith, they would never be permitted to attend the public school again.

This event is not an isolated one, particularly in Quang Ngai Province, where it is often dangerous to be a Christian. Compared to the oppressive first decade of Communist rule beginning in the mid-1970s, the situation for people of all faiths has improved in Vietnam. ...

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