Police Raids and Prisoner Reports Belie Promises of Religious Freedom

In early February, Vietnam's Prime Minister, Phan Van Khai, issued a document promising increased religious freedoms.  Doubts were raised by veteran observers; doubts confirmed by at least three raids in last three weeks on Vietnamese Churches.

Le Thi Phu Dung
According to a March 10 report from Compass Direct, police raided the headquarters of the Mennonite Church of Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City on February 27. Nineteen worshippers were arrested and taken to the police station for questioning.  They were released early the next morning.  According to Radio Free Asia, police also broke up a gathering of the Tien Giang Province Baptist Church on March 6.  The morning of March 8 brought a second raid on the Mennonite headquarters, which is also the home of imprisoned pastor Nguyen Hong Quang.  Three women were asked to sign confessions, including Quang's wife, Le Thi Phu Dung.  The five men present at the time were taken to the police station for questioning and then released.

On March 6, Vietnam's Deputy Minister of Public Security and Politburo member, Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Huong, met with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, John Hanford.  The March 8 edition of the People's Police newspaper reported on the meetings saying, "The Deputy Minister emphasized that Vietnam has no 'religious prisoners' and Vietnam has never yet prosecuted or convicted a single person on the basis that they wanted to follow this religion or that."  According to the article, the Deputy Minister "strongly affirmed that there is no one who is serving time in any prison who is mistreated." 

Four days later, Vietnamese Mennonite Evangelist Nguyen Van Phuong wrote a report on his one year in prison, demonstrating the extent of the lies perpetuated by the Minister.  He recounts the physical and psychological torture he experienced when in prison for his faith in this translation of part of his report obtained by The Voice of the Martyrs:

Nguyen Van Phuong and his family
"I was held in the Binh Khanh ward police station until 11:00 PM the day after my arrest.  They then read an arrest warrant to me, handcuffed me and took me to District 2, HCM City. Here they forced me to strip off all my clothes.  Then they put me into a special cell of gang members.   I fasted from Tuesday until Sunday.  After nine days they moved me to another cell.  Then, for the next 30 days, I was moved from one cell to another.  Each time I was "greeted" by the cell’s other occupants.  They kicked me in the chest, and banged my head against a wall.  When it was stifling hot during the day, they would make me fan them.  And at night, when it was cold, they would force me to take a cold bath every five minutes.  They also forced me to wash their clothes and to clean the cell.  Often police would interrogate me all day long, including weekends.  They questioned me, terrorized me, prompted me, forced me and pressured me - trying to break my spirit and my physical health. 

"When they interrogated me they used very offensive language in referring to me and to my God.  The interrogator named Nguyen Van Sang (nicknamed Sang Moi) used extremely offensive, filthy and slanderous language.  "Your God isn’t even as good as my prick."  And an interrogator named Tran Quang Hoang, spoke offensively about us. "You jerks are just plain thugs, not Evangelists or Pastors," and "I'll kick you in the face and bust your jaw right now."

"During the time I was in the District 2 prison getting food and drink was very difficult.  The packages that my family supplied for me were stolen by the gang members in my cell – clothing, food and everything.  They shaved my head bald.  I greatly missed my wife and baby son who had been born just over a month before I was arrested, as well as our friends and colleagues at church. 

"Four and a half months after my arrest I was transferred to the prison at 4 Phan Dang Luu, HCM City. Here I was not as badly beaten as I had been in District 2, but the police continued to interrogate me using pressure and threats and terrorized me. 

"Two and half months after going to the 4 Phan Dang Luu prison, I was transferred to Chi Hoa Prison. Here I was locked up with the worst of society – murderers, thieves and drug addicts, and my life became very complicated.  I was forced by gangs to do their laundry, and clean the cell.  Life was constantly full of fear and hardship.  I was given only one litre of water a day to drink and for all other personal uses.  

"On November 12, 2004, I and the others were escorted to the court in HCM City for a trial.  They said it would a fair trial and an open trial, but in truth it was not.  Only my mother and my wife were allowed to attend the trial and getting permission was very difficult for them.  At the trial, Judge Phan Ba asked me, "Why did you go to the site?" (of the 2/3/2004 incident).   I answered, "In my role as an evangelist, when something happens concerning our church, I must go to see for myself what is going on."  I told the Judge, "I am the one who is a victim of injustice.  I did not resist people doing their duty."  They could not pin a single fault on me.  The lawyer who was defending me cited Vietnamese laws to demonstrate they we were not guilty of resisting people doing official duty.  The lawyer requested the panel of judges who should have been familiar with the law, to judge us by the law.  But they paid no attention to this.  I myself explained about my family situation, working as just an ordinary labourer and with my wife recently having given birth to our first child, a son.  I asked them to consider these things in their verdict.

"After a short recess of 15 minutes, they came back with their verdict all neatly typed up, and read it before the court.  The sentences were: Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, 3 years; Evangelist Pham Ngoc Thach, 2 years; Miss Le Thi Hong Lien and myself, one year each, even though Miss Lien was clearly not in her right mind; and brothers Nhan and Nghia, 9 months each.  After the trial they lead us out by a secret passage to keep the large number of Christians had come from many places from seeing us.  These people had wanted to attend the trial but were not allowed in and so could only stand out in the blazing hot sun.   They escorted me to a vehicle in which I and the others were taken back to the Chi Hoa Prison.  During the trip back I witnessed police hitting Miss Lien, a woman who had lost her mind.

"After the time in Chi Hoa Prison I was transferred to a province, to Bo La Prison.  Here I did forced labour in a cashew plantation from 6:00 Am to 2:00 PM every day.  If anyone lost a knife or any other piece of equipment, they were put into solitary confinement for three days with their feet shackled.  Food and drink was very expensive.  They would not allow families to send food in from the outside, but made us buy food in the prison.  Life in prison was extremely stressful, but in dependence on God, and the prayers of His people both in Vietnam and in the wider world. . . I found God to be the One who gave strength and perseverance to me during my prison sentence. 

"On March 3, 2005 my sentence was served in full and I was allowed to be reunited with my family, and with friends and colleagues in our church.  I will return to my service to God. 

"At present I am having difficulty in moving around as I am being watched by the security police.  My physical strength has not yet been restored. I have frequent headaches and a constant cough.  I have lost the work I did before to earn money and so am dependent on my parents-in-law.  These are some of my difficulties. 

"In all things I continue to trust in God, and I hold onto the Word of the Lord.  I believe the Lord had a good and high purpose for me, my wife and my son." 

Made by
Nguyen Van Phuong
HCM City, Vietnam
12 March 2005

A doctor's exam on March 10 has indicated that Phuong is under "extreme psychological stress" and has a swollen bloody lump on his liver, along with malnutrition.  The doctor has ordered three months of complete rest.

Le Thi Hong Lien
There are also grave concerns being expressed for the health of Le Thi Hong Lien, according to the latest reports from her father.  One report that she has been transferred to the Bien Hoa Mental Hospital has yet to be confirmed.

Continue to pray for those in prison for their faith.  Pray for a full recovery for Nguyen Van Phuong and others who suffered greatly under the hands of the Vietnamese authorities.  Pray that the international community will not be fooled by the empty promises of Vietnam's political leaders.

For more information on the terrible conditions facing Christians in Vietnam and to download an advocate's packet, click here.

Pastor Quang Released from Vietnam Prison

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Nguyen Hong Quang, the Mennonite pastor imprisoned in Vietnam since his arrest on June 8, 2004, was released on August 30.

Pastor Quang being greeted at home Quang called his wife, Le Thi Phu Dung, to tell her of his release at 5:30 p.m. By 7:00 p.m., he was reunited with his family and with the church in District 2, Ho Chi Minh City.

Evangelist Pham Ngoc Thach is now the only one of the six Mennonite church leaders arrested since March 2004 still being held in prison.

At a November 2004 trial by the People's Court on charges relating to resisting officers of law, the six were given sentences ranging from a few months to three years. Ms. Le Thi Hong Lien, a children's teacher and the only woman in the group, was released in April after serving 10 months of her one-year sentence. Three others had been released earlier.

In April, the Supreme People's Court dismissed the appeals of both Quang and Thach and upheld their original sentences of three and two years, respectively.

During the past 14 months, Quang has been moved about among five different prisons. His health was seriously affected by harsh conditions, hard labour and beatings by criminals in the prisons. His Bible was confiscated, he was forbidden to pray for other prisoners and disciplined for preaching to them.

Mennonites in Vietnam believe that Quang's early release is the result of the great concern expressed by many governments, human rights agencies, international press coverage and evangelical believers both within and beyond Mennonite circles.

The Mennonite Church calls on the Vietnamese government to release Evangelist Pham Ngoc Thach also and to respect the church's freedom to exercise their religious faith.

The family of Pastor Quang expresses their deep appreciation to all who supported them in prayer and to those who supported Pastor Quang and the brothers and sisters in the Vietnam Mennonite Church who have persevered by their faith.

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