Vietnamese Police Break Up Prayers at Home of Jailed Mennonite Leader


2005.03.09
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BANGKOK—Police disbanded a women's prayer meeting in Ho Chi Minh City at the home of Vietnam's jailed Mennonite leader and briefly detained 10 men who came to their aid.

Thirty-two Mennonite women were meeting for prayer March 8 when local police entered the private home where they were gathered and told them to disperse, the pastor hosting the event said in an interview.

None of the women was arrested but 10 men were taken into custody and released later the same day, Le Thi Phu Dung said.

Three women were asked to sign confessions, including Dung—owner of the house and wife of pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, outspoken general secretary of the Vietnamese Mennonite Church.

Arguing with police

Another woman, Lam Thi Tuyet-Anh, said she argued with police. "I told them Prime Minister Phan Van Khai has issued a decree that our right of religious freedom has to be respected and we are to be helped, so why are you arresting us?” she said.

I told them Prime Minister Phan Van Khai has issued a decree that our right of religious freedom has to be respected and we are to be helped, so why are you arresting us? The police read out some ‘Resolution 7’ saying that there has not yet been any permission and we are not allowed to have religious activities in Pastor Quang' s house.

"The police read out some ‘Resolution 7’ saying that there has not yet been any permission and we are not allowed to have religious activities in Pastor Quang' s house,” Tuyet-Anh said.

No comment was immediately available from Vietnamese authorities, whom human rights groups have accused of heavy-handed suppression of Protestants.

On March 6, police broke up a gathering in Tien Giang Province, according to the leader of the unofficial Tien Giang Province Baptist Church, Vu Quoc Huynh.

Hoa Hao Buddhists affected

Huynh and a preacher were taken to the police station for questioning but released with papers telling them to report to District Police on March 12, Huynh said.

"This kind of Protestant activity has gone on for six years now. I have applied to conduct Baptist Protestant activities for several years but there were no answers—whenever police made reports I was said never to have applied for anything,” he said.

Separately, on Feb. 25 in the Thoai Son district of An Giang Province, two Hoa Hao Buddhist brothers were arrested after failing to give authorities a list of guests invited to a family ceremony scheduled for Feb. 27, according to a member of the family.

Police said the men had been arrested for storing and spreading books and tapes related to the outlawed Hoa Hao Buddhist sect. The elder of the two brothers cut off two of his own fingers in prison to protest the arrests, the relative said.

Pattern of abuse alleged

According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, Mennonites in Vietnam “have come under fire in recent years, in part because of the outspoken and at times confrontational style of Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang [who] has publicly criticized the arrests of religious and political dissidents, defended land rights cases of farmers from the provinces and used the Internet to call for religious freedom.”

Quang and three other Mennonites remain in prison on charges of resisting police officers after a scuffle broke out in March 2004 with undercover policemen who had been monitoring their Ho Chi Minh City church, the group said in February.

“Mennonites in other parts of the country have also encountered difficulties. On two separate occasions during 2004, officials in Kontum province bulldozed a Mennonite chapel that doubled as the home and office of Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, superintendent of the Mennonite churches in the Central Highlands," Human Rights Watch said.

"In September and October 2004, police pressured Mennonites in Kontum and Gia Lai provinces to sign forms renouncing their religion."

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