Four family members belonging to an unofficial branch of Vietnam’s Hoa Hao Buddhist community are scheduled to go on trial on Friday in the country’s An Giang province on charges of disrupting public order during a confrontation with authorities at their home last year.
Bui Van Trung, his son Bui Van Tham, his daughter Bui Bich Tuyen, and his wife Le Thi Hen were also charged with obstructing on-duty officers in the April 19, 2017 incident which saw police beat worshipers who had gathered to pray at their home.
Hoa Hao community members Nguyen Hoang Nam and Le Hong Hanh were also charged in the case and will join the others at trial, which will begin at 7:30 a.m. at the province’s An Phu district court, defense lawyer Nguyen Manh Phong told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Wednesday.
On April 18, 2017, traffic police accompanied by unidentified men in civilian clothes stopped Hoa Hao Buddhists going to the Bui family’s home to observe the death anniversary of a friend, confiscating motorbikes and registration papers, family members told RFA.
Several motorbikes were seized even though their owners presented papers proving proper registration, Bui Van Trung’s daughter Bui Thich Tuyen said.
“They took Mrs. Dung’s and Mrs. Bay’s motorbikes, and Dung had to pay a fine to get hers back,” Tuyen said, adding that Bay’s motorbike is still being held by police.
“Some people went to meet with the authorities to get back their motorbikes, and were attacked and beaten by thugs on the way,” she said.
“Many are now so afraid that they don’t dare to go get their vehicles,” she said.
Arrested by mob
Two months later, on June 26, 2017, Trung and his son Bui Van Tham were arrested by security officials and unidentified civilians while returning from a visit to a neighboring commune, Tuyen said.
“On their way back, hundreds of people mobbed them and took them away without showing an order for their arrest,” she said.
“Later, my mother Li Thi Hen and I were summoned by the local police, and when I showed up they gave me a government order for prosecution. My mother was sick because of the pressure she was under, and couldn’t meet with them, so they brought the order to our house to give to her.”
Bui Van Trung and Nguyen Hoang Nam are now being held at the An Phu district detention center, while Le Hong Hanh is being held in Long Xuyen city and Bui Van Tham is being detained in Chau Doc. Tuyen and her mother Le Thi Hen are free while awaiting trial.
Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Hoa Hao religion, which has some two million followers across the country, but imposes harsh controls on dissenting Hoa Hao groups, including the sect in An Giang province, that do not follow the state-sanctioned branch.
Rights groups say that authorities in An Giang routinely harass followers of the unapproved groups, prohibiting public readings of the Hoa Hao founder’s writings and discouraging worshipers from visiting Hoa Hao pagodas in An Giang and other provinces.
Also speaking to RFA this week, the head of a local branch of Vietnam’s indigenous Cao Dai faith said that he too now faces charges for his leadership of an unapproved group.
“The [ruling] Communist Party has established an official branch in order to control us, the unofficial one,” Hua Phi--head of the Cao Dai faith in the Lac Duong district of Lam Dong province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
“From Jan. 12 to Jan. 28, I received a total of seven summonses from the police requiring me to meet with them related to my having ‘offended the nation and submitting false information,’ but I refused to go, because the charges are untrue,” he said.
On Jan. 29, police arrived in a taxi to take him to their station, where they accused him of having communicated with international media and delegations, he said.
“There were eight provincial police officers there, along with four district police officers, and some communal police officers. In the end they put me under so much pressure that I fainted and they had to call a cab to take me home.”
The U.S. State Department’s 2016 International Religious Freedom Report, issued in August 2017, said that Vietnamese government authorities restricted the activities of religious groups, assaulting and detaining church members, restricting their travel, and confiscating church land for development projects.
Groups not registered with the state were especially severely treated, the State Department said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Richard Finney.