Christians attacked amid charges of religious persecution

About a third of Vietnam’s Hmong population are estimated to be Christian. Photo courtesy AFP.

Ethnic minority Christians in the north-west of the country have been attacked and badly beaten – the latest indication that religious persecution is growing in Vietnam, according to human rights activists.

Reports said that 24 newly converted Hmong Christians had been set upon by a mob led by the village chief in their highland community on March 1.

Four had to be treated in hospital after sustaining wounds to their heads and arms.

The group had been warned before the assault that they would be driven out of the village if they did not renounce their affiliation to an unregistered Protestant group.

“Climate of impunity”

In a report from Paris, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, which campaigns for religious freedom, said that harassment and violence against Christian and Buddhist groups had increased since the introduction of a new law in January.

The Law on Belief and Religion requires all religious groups to be registered with the government and restricts some of their practices.

“The authorities are invoking the law to criminalize legitimate religious activities, creating a climate of impunity for a wide range of violations of freedom of religion or belief,” said VCHR in its statement.

“Religious persecution is a growing phenomenon” added VCHR president, Vo Van Ai, who is also a vocal Buddhist leader.

The latest attack is part of a pattern of harassment reported by ethnic minority groups in the northwest as well as in the Central Highlands.

The authorities are trying to force small Christian sects in scattered communities to join much larger state registered churches where their activities can be better controlled and monitored.

Lengthy prison terms

About a third of the one million Hmong is Vietnam are estimated to be Christian.

Vietnam has guaranteed religious freedom under its own constitution and through signing Article 18 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

However, it continues to see the existence of independent religious groups as a threat to the Communist party’s monopoly on power.

Followers of the Hoa Hao Buddhist movement, which has large numbers of followers in the Mekong Delta, have also been singled out for persecution.

Ten Hoa Hao members have received lengthy prison terms this year on what their supporters say are trumped up national security charges.