By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)– Rights activists say violence against a Christian center and the detention of several believers in southeast Vietnam is the latest in a series of attacks targeting devoted Christians and unregistered churches in the Communist-run nation.
The Vietnamese Mennonite Church center in Binh Duong Province was raided November 12, allegedly by government hired assailants, after a United Nations report condemned Vietnam over “serious” religious freedom violations.
Attackers reportedly broke into the complex using hammers and metal cutters and tried to intimidate Christians staying at the centre, while police filmed the incident.
Nine Christians were detained on charges of “not having identification cards or temporary residence papers”, though these documents were “confiscated by police on a previous occasion””, said well-informed advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, whose son was among the nine people taken into custody appealed for assistance from “all governments concerned about human rights, and to U.N. organizations concerned with protecting human rights, to help end the evil being perpetrated by Binh Duong police and government officials.”
Last week’s violence was the most recent of several attacks on the centre since June 2014, when 76 Christians at the site were allegedly kicked, punched and detained by a crowd of up to 500 people, led by a local police chief.
Soon after the United Nations Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, visited Vietnam, but he cut short his trip saying some individuals he planned to meet were “intimidated, harassed or prevented from travelling by the police”.
Bielefeldt added that “serious violations of freedom of religion or belief are a reality in Vietnam”.
A report by the Mennonite church in Binh Duong says hired thugs and police continue to harass Christians at the centre “day and night, including during religious meetings, by pelting them with rotten eggs and using bricks and stones to damage the building.”
Church members also complain about harassment at their homes or workplaces, and some allegedly had money confiscated by officials. The report claims that 34 people were injured in recent violence.
CSW’s Chief Operating Officer Andy Dipper told BosNewsLife that the attacks underscore concerns expressed by the U.N. Special Rapporteur over the plight of unregistered churches, including the Mennonite church, in especially Binh Duong province.
He said his group “condemns the excessive use of force by the police and security agents in the attacks on the Christian centre, and the continued disruption of their peaceful religious activities.”
Dipper explained that his group has urged Vietnam’s government “to protect the right to freedom of religion or belief of all religious minorities in Vietnam, both registered and unregistered.”
Many Christians prefer to worship outside the government-controlled churches.
Experts say the situation for these Christians has been complicated by a revised constitution which preserved the dominance of the atheistic Communist Party.