Newly converted Christians of the Sedang ethnic minority in Vietnam's Central Highlands were terrorized last week – their homes and personal property badly damaged or destroyed in four consecutive night raids, and some of the faithful seriously injured from beatings in broad daylight, sources said.
Since becoming Christians in the past year, five families in mountainous Kontum Province have reported constant harassment from villagers upset that they are no longer contributing to communal sacrifices and other practices because of their new faith. The attacks from Monday (Feb. 18) to Friday (Feb. 22) constituted a third wave of sustained violence since their conversion, leaving their property severely damaged and their lives threatened.
Attacks on the new Christians – who belong to a Christian Mission Church (CMC) congregation in Ngoc La village, Mang Ri Commune, Tumorong District in northwestern Kontum Province – were primarily motivated by strong tensions within the ethnic group over the families leaving the "old ways." Ideologically opposed to Christianity, local Communist officials freely permit and even encourage such conflicts, sources said.
At the same time, local Vietnamese officials commonly incite and employ area thugs to attack Christians, whose united faith is perceived as a threat to government ideology and sovereignty. Often officials themselves put on civilian clothes or otherwise disguise themselves, joining in the attacks, sources said.
The assailants last week attacked the Christians' homes, pelting them with bricks and cement roof tiles and swinging wooden clubs. They then invaded their houses and destroyed their belongings.
The victims managed to take photos with their cell phones, and though taken mostly in darkness, the images are clear enough to show a destroyed fibro-cement roof; a motorcycle with parts bent, broken and missing; dishes and kitchen utensils smashed to pieces; food cast to the ground; badly damaged furniture; broken windows; wooden shutters, doors and frames ripped out of walls; and wooden clubs and bricks strewn about.
The gangs on Friday (Feb. 22) beat a number of the Christians in broad daylight, with some, including women, struck below the abdomen. Several were reported to be seriously injured. One family, threatened with death if they stayed in their home, fled into the forest, where they were forced to spend nights in the cold with inadequate clothing and no shelter.
Officials positioned above the local ones were notified of the attacks. They eventually did come to the area but left soon thereafter, having said and done nothing about the violence, sources said.
The families are related to the Danang-based CMC, legally recognized by the Vietnamese government for several years. The CMC is one of several Christian groups that have been evangelizing along the former Ho Chi Minh Trail now being developed with roads and other infrastructure. CMC evangelists and other groups have seen great openness to the Christian faith among ethnic minorities.
The 2010 government census reported that just under 80 percent of Vietnamese evangelicals are ethnic minorities. One acknowledged Vietnam expert on Protestantism in the country told Morning Star News the government figure was surprising.
"We know well that ethnic minorities Protestants far outnumber the dominant ethnic Vietnamese ones but consider the ratio to be about two-to-one," he said. "So we are bit surprised that the government census percentage is that high."
While the religious freedom environment for many Christians in Vietnam's larger cities has improved considerably in recent years, that of many ethnic minority Christians in remote and mountainous regions of the country definitely has not, sources said. Regularly occurring incidents demonstrate that Vietnamese authorities actively work to limit and contain Christianity, even as they appear to have given up on eradicating it.
There were several serious attacks on Christians in northern Vietnam over last Christmasseason. Local Vietnamese leaders and advocates decided to try local advocacy and quiet channels rather than publicity. Nothing came of these efforts, so some Vietnamese leaders say that international publicity should be resumed.
Vietnam's new Decree (on religion) No. 92, which came into effect on Jan. 1, promised further clarity and easing of controls on religion. But Protestants who have analyzed the decree say it portends more regulation and interference into internal church affairs, and much more difficulty for new churches and believers.
"Please intercede for these brothers and sisters and use this news in all places that it reaches to recruit prayer and to advocate for them," an advocate in Vietnam said.