Vietnam Committee on Human Rights Condemns Sentencing of Mennonite Pastor

The recent sentencing of an evangelical Mennonite Pastor and five believers has drawn protest from human rights groups and the Christian community. The Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang, the secretary general of the Mennonite Church and an active member of the Vietnamese Evangelical Fellowship, was sentenced to three years in prison for “inciting people to obstruct officials from carrying out their duties” after a half-day trial at the Ho Chi Minh City’s People’s Court on Nov. 12.

“[We] strongly condemn the unfair prison sentence handed down on several members of the banned Vietnamese Evangelical Mennonite Church simply for the peaceful exercise of their religious beliefs,” said the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) in a statement released shortly after the sentencing.

Nguyen, 45, was arrested in early June when "he was tricked out of his house by police posing as government land authorities," according to sources. Though the Mennonite Church is considered illegal by the Vietnamese government, judicial authorities said that he was not arrested for religious reasons, but because he was “inciting people to obstruct officials from carryout out their duties.”

According to VCHR, Nguyen had held a sit-in in December 2003 at a Police station in Ho Chi Minh City along with other church leaders to protest the detention of 19 Christians for distributing religious pamphlets at the SEA Games in Ho Chi Minh City.

Nguyen also called attention to the illegal detention and abuse of the three evangelists, that were being held without formal charges more than three months after their arrest. On June 25, he released a substantial report addressed to Mennonite bodies and other churches both in the country and internationally. The report charged that public security officers of Ho Chi Minh City District 2 violated at least four sections of the criminal code on “temporary imprisonment.”

At the four-hour trial at the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court, Nguyen was sentenced to three years imprisonment and his co-workers—Pham Ngoc Thach, Nguyen Van Phuong, Le Thi Hong Lien, Ngyuen Thanh Nhan, and Hieu Nghia—were given sentences ranging from 9 months to 2 years.

“It is extremely disturbing to see how the Hanoi regime, which prides itself on conducting human rights dialogues with the United States, the European Union and other democratic nations, continues to repress Vietnam’s peaceful religious communities in flagrant violations of its own Constitution and laws”, declared Vo Van Ai, President of VCHR.

“Just one month ago, at the Fifth ASEM Summit in Hanoi, our Committee submitted a list of 23 prisoners of conscience to the EU, and we were happy to learn that the EU Presidency took up our concerns and privately urged Hanoi to release a number of detained dissidents,” Vo added. “Today, it is clear that Hanoi totally disregards the friendly appeals made by its Western partners, and worse still, tramples upon the constitutional rights of its own citizens”.

The trial came just two days after the publication of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s Annual Human Rights Report, which expressed “particular concern about the plight of non-recognized Buddhist and Protestant groups” in Vietnam.

The UK FCO’s report follows several other strong protests from the international community about Vietnam’s violations of religious freedom.

Currently Vietnam is ranked No. 4 on Open Doors' World Watch List of countries where persecution is the worst, and is also listed as a “country of particular concern” by the U.S. State Department’s in their annual International Religious Freedom Report, recently released on Sept. 15.