By Nguyen Hung
January 5, 2008
During the Christmas season there were persecutions threats and arrests in the North of the country. Many Christians, Catholic and Protestant, do not dare declare their faith because they are discriminated against in the workplace and threatened by police.
The Vietnamese Constitution (dated 1982) states that “Vietnamese citizens have the right to religious freedom. Each person has the right to follow or not follow a religion”. But this article is barely enacted in the large residential areas. In the rural and mountain areas of Lang Son, however, local authorities are threatening Montagnards who dare participate in religious service with prison.
Lang Son diocese was established in 1659 and is located in the North of Vietnam on the border with China. The total population is over 1, 15 million, with just 6 thousand Catholics, almost all from ethnic minorities. But only about half of the number of Catholics living here are able to attend church on Sunday or pastoral activities. The rest do not even have the courage to declare themselves Catholics because of continuous discrimination. A Catholic of the H’mong ethnic group tells AsiaNews: “We do not dare to affirm that we are Catholics because the local authority suspects us and threat that they will bring us to the prison”.
A young man reveals that “It is difficult to look for a job in the province if your curriculum vitae or your religious back ground are Catholic or Protestant. Of course you are not able to work for government offices or state organizations. So your future or your children’s future remains bleak and uncertain”.
“Though the government has said that the law of religions will be renovated and reformed, – adds another young Catholic – it still hasn’t been implemented. Especially in rural and mountainous areas, if the minority people enter any “religions’ activities”, it means that the person will be confronted with serious difficulties and obstacles in their daily lives. Local authorities still see religion as a taboo”.
During the Christmas period there were a series of attacks on religious communities in the North. On 24th December, police raided a gathering in the village in Son La province, North Vietnam, where people were praying together on the occasion of Christmas. A young man from the nearby Phu Tho province attending the meeting was brutally beaten and taken away. Police falsely accused him as a criminal for whom they were hunting. However, he was set free later after a protest led by the villagers.
On Christmas day, Father Joseph Nguyen Trung Thoai, Chancellor of Son Tay Bishop’s office, was arrested on the way to Co Noi to celebrate Christmas Mass. He was held in police custody to prevent him celebrating mass. Again, he was only set free after a protest of the villagers.
In the village of Muong La, police did not dismiss a Christmas prayer gathering held in a private house. However, they did prevent anyone outside the village from joining the gathering. A group of people who had to walk 40 km to attend Christmas Mass were forced to go back to their tribe.
For decades now groups of Montagnards, be they Catholic or Protestant, have been subjected to persecution at the hands of the Vietnamese government. They have long been suspected of having collaborated with the United States during the Vietnamese war, Often the persecution is exacerbated by the expansion of Vietnamese towards Montagnard territory, expropriating lands and leading to mass arrests,
“Local authorities – a young H’mong explains – have always been prejudice towards us. They think that our religious activities are a cover for complotting or conspiracy. But we Catholics, just like so many other Vietnamese, only want to contribute to the development of our nation”.