HRW: Religious Persecution Persists in Vietnam

New evidence shows that Vietnamese security forces are continuing to mistreat and arbitrarily detain Montagnards Christians, Human Rights Watch said today

New evidence shows that Vietnamese security forces are continuing to mistreat and arbitrarily detain Montagnards Christians, Human Rights Watch said today in a new 16-page briefing paper.

While the NY-based organization welcomed recent commitments from the Vietnamese government on religious freedom, it urged Vietnam to amend the regulations to allow full and unconditional religious freedom in order to end the official identification of religion as a threat to the state.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Vietnamese officials are continuing to force Montagnard Christians to recant their faith.

Targeted in particular are those perceived as following “Dega Christianity”—an unsanctioned form of evangelical Christianity followed by many Montagnards who distrust government-controlled religious organizations and seek to manage their own affairs. HRW reports that the Vietnamese government has banned Dega Christianity and charges that it is not a religion but a separatist political movement.

“Montagnards who attempt to practice their religion independently still face assaults and live in fear,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW. “The persecution of Montagnards for their religious beliefs and for their claims to ancestral lands continues unabated.”

HRW said Friday that recent talks between Vietnam and the United States on Vietnam’s designation by the United States as a “Country of Particular Concern” for religious persecution have produced some commitments by the Vietnamese government to allow greater religious freedom.

Registration requirements for some churches have been loosened, and the Prime Minister has issued a regulation banning the forced renunciation of religious beliefs, HRW noted.

However, the regulation requires religious organizations to obtain government permission in order to operate and states that only churches that have conducted “pure religious activities” since 1975 can register for official authorization. This effectively eliminates Montagnard house churches in the Central Highlands, most of which started up in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In an "ominous tone," the regulation instructs officials to publicly expose “disguised Protestants” and to “fight attempts by hostile forces to abuse Protestantism to incite people to act subversively.”

HRW said that at this point, the reforms appear to be having the perverse effect of allowing government security forces to take fresh action against religious activists.

Also, in a recent Memorandum of Understanding signed with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Vietnam pledged that there would be no retaliation or mistreatment against individuals who return from Cambodia to Vietnam after last year's mass exodus of Montagnards. However, HRM claims that Vietnam continues to deny international monitors unhindered access to the Central Highlands to check on the safety of returnees.

“The general mistreatment of Montagnards and the targeting of returnees from Cambodia makes it clear that Vietnam is not upholding the commitments it made to UNHCR in January,” said Adams.

“Hanoi must allow international monitors into the Central Highlands to ensure proper implementation of the agreement. Vietnam should stop denying that these abuses are happening and start showing the political will to end them.”

Earlier this week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) announced its 2005 recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of State on “countries of particular concern.”

Vietnam, which the USCIRF designated last year as a “country of particular concern,” was included again in this year's list for having "engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion or belief." Vietnam is also listed as No. 3 on the Open Doors International “World Watch List” that lists the top 50 countries where Christians suffer the most according to the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith.