By BosNewsLife Asia Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)– Eight arrested Christians remained in Vietnamese police custody Sunday, August 29, after a violent government crackdown on Christian villagers in which one person was killed and several others injured, including a pregnant woman who lost her child, rights activists said.
Advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) said tensions began when Vietnamese authorities ordered the Christian Con Dau village, near the port city of Da Nang, to be abandoned to build a resort on the site. “When the people resisted water irrigation was shut off to the rice fields, cutting the main source of income and food.”
Additionally, “Vietnamese police surrounded and attacked a [local] funeral” on May 4, “as it approached the cemetery. Police arrested and beat 62 persons including women who were stripped naked. One pregnant woman, Le Thi Van, was struck in her stomach until she had a miscarriage,” ICC added.
A leader of the same funeral procession, Thomas Nam Nguyen, was killed last month after he refused to return to the police station where he was “beaten multiple times,” the rights group said.
“On July 2, the police came to his house and caught him as he tried to escape. He was handcuffed and ordered to kneel with his head on the ground while the police kicked his back, chest and head.”
His wife was reportedly present and begged the police to stop. However, “They continued to beat him for approximately four hours, and then released him in critical condition. On July 3, he died at home in the hands of his mother, surrounded by his wife and three children,” ICC explained.
While most detained in raids have been released, at least eight Christian villagers remained in police custody Sunday, August 28, and are awaiting trial, according to Vietnamese Christians.”To date no family members have been able to see them,” said ICC, who identified the individuals as Nguyen Huu Liem, Tran Thanh Viet, Doan Cang, Le Thanh Lam, Nguyen Thi The, Phan Thi Nhan, Nguyen Thi Lieu, and Nguyen Huu Minh.
“The people of Con Dau are living in desperate fear and confusion,” explained Thang Nguyen,
the Executive Director of Boat People SOS, an organization representing the Con Dau victims. “Hundreds of residents have been fined, and many have escaped to [neighboring] Thailand,” he added in published remarks.
Vietnamese authorities have not commented on the case. Earlier however, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry denied reports of attacks on Christian villagers and predominantly Christian minorities, such as Degar Montagnards, in the country’s Central Highlands.
The United States Congress held a hearing on Vietnamese persecution earlier this month, focusing on the Con Dau incident. Witnesses reportedly included the brother of Thomas Nam Nguyen, a brother of a villager who escaped to Thailand, and a sister of two who are currently imprisoned.
U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Michael W. Michalak, allegedly said that the incident was a land dispute and refused to become directly involved. There was no reaction from the embassy.
ICC’s Regional Manager, Logan Maurer, said however that the latest incident underscores concerns about the 2006 by the United States State Department to remove Vietnam from the Country of Particular Concern (CPC) list, a list of nations with reported religious rights abuses. The State Department cited “progress in religious freedom” in Vietnam as the reason behind its decision.
However, “The Vietnamese government has exposed its brutality and greed, torturing and killing Christians to make room for their ambition,” said Maurer. “The tourist resort they plan to build in Con Dau will have its foundation in blood. This incident shows [the State Department] could not be more wrong” to remove Vietnam from the CPC list.