An incident early this month in which 24 Hmong Christians in Vietnam’s northwestern highlands were attacked by a mob led by a village chief in a violent attempt to make the them renounce their faith underscores a deterioration in religious freedom in the communist state, critics said on Tuesday.
On March 1, 24 Hmong villagers who had recently converted to Christianity were attacked by a mob, leaving four hospitalized with injuries to their heads and arms. The attack followed warnings from local authorities that they would be expelled from the village if they did not renounce their faith, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) said in statement.
“Such attacks and acts of harassment against religious communities have multiplied recently in Vietnam, despite the introduction of the new Law on Belief and Religion in January,” VCHR said in a statement.
“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,” added the group
In remarks accompanying the statement on the March 1 attack, VCHR President Vo Van Ai said: “Religious persecution is a growing phenomenon” despite freedom of religion or belief being enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution.
According to VCHR, about 300,000 of the one million Hmong in Vietnam are Christians.
“These small Christian groups in the remote highland areas are being forced to join the larger, state-registered denominations,” it said. “This is not only impractical – the churches are based in the large towns – but local Christians also object that state-registered churches have compromised on religious practices in order to obtain registration."
“Those who do not conform to these demands risk harassment and persecution, as in the case of the Hmong,” it said.
VCHR said conditions for believers in Vietnam have worsened since the implementation in January of the Law on Belief and Religion, which requires mandatory registration and imposes tight controls on religious activities.
Groups who chose not to register under the law have become “extremely vulnerable,” it said, citing troubles faced by the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam the independent Hoa Hao group, whose members have received stiff prison terms.
UN weighs in
The March 1 attack came to light as Vietnam's rights record, including on religious freedom, is under examination at the United Nations Human Rights Council at its annual meeting in Geneva.
U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service in an interview that “Vietnam is one of the top 5 countries that have received the highest number of communications on violations of religious freedom.
The fact that Vietnam has attracted such a great deal of attention from mandate holders shows that there are serious concerns in the country,” he added.
“Global studies have placed Vietnam among the 10 states that have a very negative attitude to freedom of religion or belief in the public and private domain,” told RFA.
Following talks on Monday between Vietnamese religious figures and U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Hanoi, Catholic priest Le Xuan Loc told RFA: “In our presentation, we stated that the situation of religious freedom in Vietnam has yet to show much improvement.”
“Especially with the churches are not recognized by the government or are said not to comply with Vietnamese law, the government seems to be stricter, and more severe measures have been used against some individuals,” Loc said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Paul Eckert.