The eyes of the world were on Vietnam towards the end of February 2019. US President Donald Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong Un met there on February 27 to discuss issues pertaining to removing nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and pertaining to economic growth for North Korea.
The thought of ridding the world of North Korea’s nuclear weapons is tantalizing, but should never displace the need for stopping the egregious human rights abuses perpetrated by the Kim Jong Un regime against his own people and others – like Otto Warmbier. Singled out for special punishment? North Korean Christians. The Trump Administration needs to reinvigorate America’s longstanding tradition until recent years of linking human rights and national security.
Similarly, while the cameras were focused on the Trump/Kim summit, there was a dark secret that the cameras, the politicians, the world, ignored in Vietnam. That is the plight of the vibrant Christian community in that Southeast Asian nation. Recent crackdowns on Vietnam’s Christians, including some that occurred during the Advent season of 2018 and into the New Year, should be a cause for concern.
The Council of Ethnic Peoples and Religions of Viet Nam (CPRVN) provided many examples of persecution in a presentation to U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback on February 19. CPRVN told how on December 16th, 2018, Nghe An Police reportedly targeted a Protestant church located in a Hmong village. The police also organized a contest to force the church members to give up their religion and worship Ho Chi Minh instead. The Hmong are special targets of the Communist government not only because they are Christians, but because they are an ethnic minority and they were great allies of U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War.
CPRVN related news about two events that took place on Christmas Eve, as well. First, a joint operation between Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities was conducted with Cambodian police targeting the Ratanakiri Province region in Cambodia. They reported that church leaders were taken away by security forces. In the second incident police forces in the Daklak province targeted a church serving the Ede ethnic community. They disrupted the celebrations marking the birth of Christ.
Other events reported to Ambassador Brownback by CPRVN took place at the end of January. On January 30th, the Daklak Provincial Court opened proceedings against Mr. Y Pum Bya. This gentleman, an evangelist, was accused of violating Article 87 of the Vietnamese Penal Code. Guidelines call for a prison sentence of 14 years’ incarceration and 5 years of probation upon conviction. This was the third time Mr. Y Pum Bya had been taken into custody while defending both his beliefs and his property.
Also the CPRVN reported that on the same day the same court charged another missionary named Y Min Ksor under the same Article 87 of the Vietnamese Penal Code. He is currently serving a 9 year sentence, with no relatives able to visit him since his wife recently passed away.
Currently the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) considers Vietnam to be a Tier 1 country on its CPC (Countries of Particular Concern) list. The most recent International Religious Freedom Report from the State Department covers the calendar year of 2017. However, there is an interesting sentence in the entry for Vietnam:
The constitution states that all people have freedom of belief and religion. Current law, however, provides for significant government control over religious practices and includes vague provisions that permit restrictions on religious freedom in the stated interest of national security and social unity.
Just last year the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion came into effect. Under this law the above mentioned restrictions remain as a power given to the government. There is a multistage process for the registration and recognition of religious groups. On one brighter note, the timeline has been shortened from 23 years to 5 years for that process to be completed.
Clearly there is ample reason for concern for the faithful in Vietnam. President Trump was steadfast in advocating for the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson when his rights were being violated in Turkey. The Christians of Vietnam need to hear President Trump’s voice also.