An ailing ethnic Hmong Christian leader in Vietnam said Friday he has been denied medical treatment at hospitals he had approached in the capital Hanoi, accusing authorities in the one-party Communist state of persecuting him for his religious beliefs.
Duong Van Minh, 52, who is suffering from a serious kidney ailment, said that his relatives had inquired about getting him treatment at several hospitals in the city in recent days, but that none of them wanted him at their facilities.
Minh, who is based in northern Vietnam’s Tuyen Quang province but has been put up at the Redemptorist Church while in Hanoi, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service he believes the reason for their refusal is linked to long-running persecution of his religious teachings about burial practices.
His sect teaches Hmong Christians in Vietnam’s northern highlands to reform their burial practices in a move that has been opposed by the authorities.
“The Tuyen Quang officials and police even go to other provinces to fabricate stories, slander people, and block them from doing things,” he said.
“Since August 1989 when we talked about [our practice], police and government officials monitored us day and night to find ways to repress and arrest people,” he said.
Officials in the Northern Highlands have cracked down on reformed burial practices in recent years, launching a campaign to force Hmong Christians to return to old traditions that involve expensive, week-long funerals, rights groups have said.
Minh, 52, had spent five years in prison from 1990 to 1995. Over the past year, he has been held for questioning for at least four months.
In June last year, Minh was admitted for kidney treatment to the Police Ministry’s Hospital 198 in Hanoi, where authorities from Tuyen Quang came to question him for an hour per day, according to Vietnamese Catholic blogger JB Nguyen Huu Vinh.
After his release, he was detained from September until the Tet holiday in late January, when he returned home, according to the blogger.
On Feb. 2 this year, Minh was brought from Tuyen Quang to a detention center in Hanoi, then treated at the Bach Mai hospital, according to the blogger, but since then has been refused treatment from other facilities.
Police had forced him to pay hospital fees during the time he was treated at a police hospital, even though he was told he would not have to, Minh said.
“I told them, 'You told me you don't charge any fees for hospital and boarding house, but you claimed it and asked me to pay,'” he said.
Minh, whose calls for reformed burial practices have been drawing a large following among Hmong Christians since 1989, said his teachings were about faith in God.
“It’s simply trust in God, that's it,” he said, saying the old burial practices had been harmful to their communities because they were so costly.
“Traditionally, before, each son of the deceased had to donate a cow and organize rituals for at least three days and up to nine days before burying the body,” he said.
“Now when we follow the ‘abandoning ghosts’ practice, the families that can afford to do so keep [the body] for one day, and there’s no need to kill a cow or buffalo, as pigs and chickens do fine.”
In 2008, authorities in Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Thai Nguyen, and Tuyen Quang provinces began an “aggressive campaign” to force Hmong Christians to return to old burial practices by demolishing shared funeral storage facilities that villages had built to accommodate the new practice, according to overseas rights group Boat People SOS (BPSOS).
After a number of Hmong villages rebuilt their funeral storage facilities in 2012, the authorities have sent in plain-clothed police and thugs to destroy these facilities and arrested a number of Hmong villagers last year, it said.
In October and November, at least eight Hmong activists who were followers of Minh’s were arrested as they protested for freedom of religion and belief, Vietnamese citizen journalism blog Dan Lam Bao reported.
On Nov. 23, police forces surrounded an ethnic Hmong village at Cao Bang province and demolished their funeral storage facility, in an incident that was followed by an attack on another Hmong village in the province the next day, according to Dan Lam Bao.
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.