In four villages in Vietnam's Lai Chau Province a few weeks before Christmas, 19 police agents destroyed house churches belonging to ethnic Hmong Christians. Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom also reported that high-level authorities in the northwestern province threatened to "kill all Christian leaders."

The threats, according to the center, come after a year in which police beat to death three Hmong Christians. Among them was the 10-year-old child of a church leader.

Center director Nina Shea reports that human-rights abuses in Vietnam worsened in the past year. Vietnam's constitutional guarantee of religious freedom comes with excessive fines, surveillance, raids, torture, and church closings for religious bodies that do not submit to its extreme controls.

As Shea noted in congressional testimony last October, the Communist controls explain "why advocates of freedom of speech and freedom of religion are arrested for such vague offenses as 'inciting social disorder,' 'disrupting national unity,' and 'violating Vietnamese values and traditions.' "

Some 15,000 Hmong Christians from northwest provinces have fled to the Central Highlands in the past six years. There they found relative safety until a peaceful protest—or an "uprising," according to some sources—by numerous tribal groups in February 2001 led to a government crackdown. Troops uprooted Hmong highlanders and forced them into desolate lands. Authorities continue to use the protest as a pretext for raiding house churches.

The government campaign against unregistered house churches endangers more than 250,000 Hmong and other tribal (Montagnard) Christians. By contrast, in 2001 the government granted official recognition to—and clamped tight ...

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