The wife of an imprisoned pastor and democracy activist in Vietnam says she and her family members were beaten and detained by police the day U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink visited their district.
“On June 26, officers from the Quang Yen commune police department came to my house, ordering all the family members not to go out of the home for the next few days,” Nguyen Thi Lanh, the wife of Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, told Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese service, which noted the "intensifying crackdown on human rights activists and dissidents [is occurring] six months before the Communist Party of Vietnam’s next five-yearly party congress."
On the following Monday night, the day before Kritenbrink’s visit, Communist authorities locked the gate surrounding the family’s home, according to the nonprofit broadcast service funded by the U.S. government.
Thi Lanh explained in her interview that on Tuesday morning, she used a pair of pliers to break the locks of the gate so that she could go to the market to sell goods. However, she was caught by police and arrested. She was transported to the Quang Yen police station.
Later that day, around 4 p.m. local time, Nguyen Trung Trong Nghia, her son, left the house to go to the police station to help his mother.
Thi Lanh said that two people, who were believed to be plainclothes officers, “ambushed” her son on the way to the police station.
“They blindfolded and bludgeoned my son’s head with an electric baton, causing him injury,” Thi Lanh told Radio Free Asia.
“A police officer took my son to a health clinic for treatment then brought him back to the Quang Yen police office for booking.”
According to Thi Lanh, her son returned to the health clinic again for more treatment since some of his teeth were broken and his face was swollen.
Thi Lanh said that a police official told the family that they were under house arrest because of the ambassador’s visit. Radio Free Asia reports that Kritenbrink departed from Quang Xuong at 5 p.m. that Tuesday. After his departure, the police left their position at the family’s house.
Kritenbrink visited the northern Thanh Hoa province last week. Last Monday, Kritenbrink visited the Ham Rong Bridge to meet with Vietnam war veterans in celebration of the 25th anniversary of diplomatic bilateral relations between the countries.
Radio Free Asia notes that Thanh Hoa Radio and Television reported that the ambassador led a U.S. delegation in attending an opening ceremony for a local project supported by the Fund for Cultural Preservation.
The Christian Post reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi for comment on Thi Lanh’s account in her interview with Radio Free Asia and whether the embassy had been made aware of the Communist government detaining any other activists ahead of the ambassador’s visit. A response is pending.
Vietnam ranks as the 21st-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List. According to the persecution watchdog, Christians in Vietnam are targeted by both government and tribal leaders.
Although the Vietnamese government has “some level of tolerance” for Christian groups like Catholics, believers can be imprisoned if they are deemed to be politically active, the group warns.
Pastor Trung Ton and his family are one example. Ton, who has spoken out avidly for religious freedom and against social injustices, was arrested in July 2017 and charged with trying to “overthrow the people’s government.” He was sentenced to 12 years in prison in April 2018.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is calling on the U.S. State Department to label Vietnam as a “country of particular” concern for engaging in or tolerating egregious and systemic violations of religious freedom. However, the State Department only recognizes nine countries as countries of particular concern and that list does not include Vietnam.
“During USCIRF’s 2019 visit, multiple pastors reported that authorities in the Central Highlands regularly raided or closed down house churches,” USCIRF’s 2020 annual report on Vietnam reads. “In addition, USCIRF received reports during the year that police interrogated and detained Montagnard Christians for participating in religious freedom conferences overseas and for meeting with U.S. government officials.”