As U.S. President Bill Clinton visited with Catholic Archbishop Pham Minh Man to discuss religious freedom issues in this city formally known as Saigon, security police across town broke up a quiet worship service in the home of a Protestant house church leader.
Clinton met with the archbishop on November 19, 2000 to discuss the difficulties still being experienced by the Catholic Church at the hands of Vietnam's communist regime. Earlier the same day, police raided the Sunday worship service of Grace Church, a house church congregation, being held in the home of Rev. Nguyen Ngoc (Henry) Hien.
Authorities confiscated Bibles, threatened those attending the worship service and seized Rev. Hien's identification card. The pastor was told to report to a police station so his activities could be further investigated.
"Although they always said that in Vietnam now having religious freedom, we are always in persecution," Rev. Hien said.
Recent incidents and the experiences of many Vietnamese Christians confirm the pastor's claim.
On November 14, a spokesperson for Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed as "distorted and slanderous" the publication of secret Vietnamese Communist Party documents that expose the government's harsh policies, plans and practices toward Protestants, according to a Reuters news agency report. The documents were made public by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Religious Freedom.
In early November, house church leader Cao Xuan Tao in Quang Binh province was arrested and jailed. As of November 20, he had not been released or charged.
In Phu Yen province, six Christians were fined 50,000 Vietnamese dong each for meeting in a home for Christian worship. The fines were levied and paid on September 20. The same month, house church pastor Ngo Trung Cang in Quang Nam province was arrested, held for two days and humiliated by having his head shaved.
A Hmong Christian named Sung Seo Choa, 42, of Xin Man in Ha Giang province, was sentenced to 24 months of labor and re-education on September 19. The official decision paper stated that Mr. Choa has "no religion." Yet he was sentenced because he "continually preaches religion illegally after being educated many times not to do so."
In Quang Nam province on September 18, security police raided the home of Mr. Nguyen Chuc. About 20 policemen reportedly assaulted Chuc and his family (including his elderly mother) and confiscated personal property and a valuable household water pump.
Chuc appealed to Vietnam's Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, and declined to pay a fine that the security police levied for an Easter celebration held in his home last April.
In a six-page petition addressed to the Prime Minister of Vietnam and other authorities, Chuc confessed that he was a drunken lout and a menace to his community before he became a Christian believer five years ago. The police never bothered him at all then, he wrote. But now the authorities hound him.
"What harm am I doing to the government and the people," Chuc asked, "by being a hardworking, honest person who cares for his family, community and country?"
In the government's September 2 general amnesty, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Thuy, a house church leader, was released from prison after serving 11 months of a 12-month sentence for "resisting an officer of the law doing his duty." She had been jailed when she questioned the right of the police to enter and search her home without authorization while she was hosting a small worship service. Authorities avoided any mention of religion during the trial. Before her release, however, the prison warden and a delegation of officials tried to convince her that she must agree to stop talking to others about her faith.
On August 14, the church building of an ethnic Vietnamese congregation in Dong Tam in Binh Phuoc province was razed by armed authorities in spite of pleas by local Christians who had erected it nine years earlier with their own meager resources. Authorities said that land ownership and building permits were not in order.
Three Christian believers of the San Chi minority group in Bao Lac district, Cao Bang province, wrote a letter on July 7 complaining of two years of persecution at the hands of officials. In an incident that just happened, the three were arrested, abused, fined and sentenced to 10 days hard labor. The abuse consisted of brutal punching and kicking.
On July 1, authorities destroyed a newly-erected church structure in the Thu Thiem district of Ho Chi Minh City. The congregation had worked with authorities for nine years in order to follow confusing government-approved procedures for establishing a church, to no avail.
Of the 10 incidents mentioned, eight involved ethnic Vietnamese Christians. A widespread campaign to hinder the growth of Christianity among the Hmong minority in the northwest provinces, detailed in the secret documents released by the Center for Religious Freedom, continues unabated.
"Vietnam's Protestant believers may be forgiven if they wonder why they are excluded from the much heralded religious freedom their government continually says is the right of all Vietnamese citizens," a Vietnam observer told Compass.
Copyright Â© 2000 Compass Direct
Previous Christianity Today articles about Vietnam include:
Vietnam Jams Hmong Christian Radio Broadcasts | Government tries to curb spread of Protestant Christianity along Chinese border. (Sept. 1, 2000)
Authorities Destroy 'Church' in Vietnam | Crude structure in Ho Chi Minh City slum had been erected only hours earlier. (July 27, 2000)
Napalm Victim Now Agent for Peace | Canadian Christian remembers tearing burning clothes from her flesh. (Feb. 8, 1999)
Jesus Can Still Mean Jail | The plight of Vietnam's 700,000 evangelical Christians. (Nov. 11, 1998)
House Pastors Jailed in New Crackdown | Seven Vietnamese pastors imprisoned. (Jan. 6, 1997)