Vietnam Releases One More Member of 'Mennonite Six'

A Christian persecution watchdog group announced yesterday the release of one of the “Mennonite Six” arrested in March 2004. On Mar. 3, 2005, Nguyen Van Phuong reportedly became the third among the six to be released in recent months. Meanwhile, concern continues for those still in prison.

According to the Voice of the Martyrs, Phuong appeared to be in fair health when he was met by his wife and one-year-old son. It had been nearly five months since Phuong and five other Mennonite church members were convicted on Nov. 12, 2004 for “inciting people to obstruct officials from carrying out their duties.”

At the four-hour trial at the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court last November, Phuong was given a one-year prison term while fellow Mennonites Pham Ngoc Thach, Le Thi Hong Lien, Ngyuen Thanh Nhan, Hieu Nghia, and the Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang were given sentences ranging from 9 months to 3 years.

Those close to the situation told Compass News last year that the charges and trial were an artifice to take out of circulation Rev. Quang, an outspoken leader of the Vietnam Mennonite Church. Quang, who served as the secretary general of the Mennonite Church and as an active member of the Vietnamese Evangelical Fellowship, had actively campaigned against religious freedom and human rights abuses.

The Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) reported that in one such campaign Quang 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.

Quang 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 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.”

Yesterday, VOM reported that the appeal hearings for Quang and Thach, which were postponed from their original Feb. 2 court date, have still not been rescheduled.

On Mar. 4, Quang's wife and acting president of the Vietnam Mennonite Church, Le Thi Phu Dung, sent a letter to Vietnam’s president. In her letter, she outlined the persecution facing the Mennonite Church in Vietnam and asked for fair treatment.

The Vietnam Mennonite Church, which is considered by Vietnam as illegal, is one of several minority Christian Protestant groups that have come under fire in recent years.

In a recently released statement by Human Rights Watch, the New York-based organization reported that ethnic Hmong Christians in the northwest provinces have been beaten, detained, and pressured by local authorities to abandon their religion and cease religious gatherings. And in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, the government has increased its persecution of members of ethnic minorities—collectively known as Montagnards—particularly those thought to be following “Dega Protestantism.”

VOM is encouraging concerned readers to contact government officials on behalf of these and other suffering Christians in Vietnam. More details and contact information are available at http://www.persecution.net/news/vietnam_advocate.pdf.

The April edition of The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter will feature the arrest and plight of the "Mennonite Six." Special web features including reports and video footage will be made available to newsletter subscribers.