|Hill-tribe Christians in the Central Highlands are especially at risk of state persecution
CC BY-SA 3.0 / DXLINH
On 4 October 2013, various religious groups in Vietnam, including major Christian denominations, issued a joint statement saying that their government was attempting to destroy religions in the country “using both force and administrative measures”.
Plenty of recent incidents substantiate the strength of their argument. On 4 September 2013, police used live ammunition, grenades and electric batons to crush a protest by hundreds of Christians calling for the release of two church members who had been detained for over two months without charge. The pair were subsequently jailed on spurious charges of “disturbing public order”.
Hundreds of Christians are incarcerated in Vietnam’s harsh prison system, where they are subjected to beatings, abuse and torture. Church leader Vam Ngaij Vaj died in police custody in March 2013. His body showed signs of electrocution; police claimed that he committed suicide.
Vietnam is a one-party Communist state that regards Christianity as a Western religion and thus a threat. Religious practice is strictly controlled, and churches are required to register with the authorities. But at the beginning of 2013, new rules came into force that increased restrictions and made it almost impossible for unregistered groups to obtain legal status. Christian lawyer Nguyen Van Dai said Decree 92 “is intended to provide the tools to end the house-church movement entirely”.
Because their activities are illegal, those who belong to unregistered churches are particularly vulnerable to harassment, arrests and imprisonment. But registered churches are regulated and controlled, and their legal protections are vague and uncertain. Christians may be penalised for offences such as “attempting to undermine national unity” by promoting “division between religious believers and non-believers”.
The authorities are particularly hostile to hill-tribe Christians in the Central Highlands and frequently subject them to discrimination, intimidation and violence.
As well as state opposition, Vietnamese Christians, who comprise nine per cent of the population, face aggression from their neighbours. In one case in early 2013, five Christian families were forced to flee their village after their homes and farms were destroyed by local animists.