Vietnam: Imprisoned pastor’s son faces death threats, pressure to renounce his faith

Catholics hold the holy cross while attending a mass as part of a three-day conclusion to the Holy Year celebrations at the La Vang Basilica, in Vietnam's central Quang Tri province January 5, 2011. | REUTERS/Kham

The son of a pastor imprisoned in Vietnam said authorities repeatedly pressure him to renounce his faith, threaten to kill him, and monitor his home amid the rapid erosion of human rights in the country.

According to Radio Free Asia, Pastor Y Yich, a resident of Gia Lai province in Vietnam’s central highlands, was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to six years in prison for his role in demonstrations demanding land and freedom of religion for Vietnam’s Montagnard people.

Arrested again in 2013, he was sentenced to 12 years in An Phuoc prison in Binh Duong province.

In a recent interview with RFA, Mrui, the pastor's son, shared how his family continues to experience persecution despite his father’s imprisonment. 

“My dad was arrested in 2013 for opposing the state, [authorities] forced him to abandon his faith. Village, district officers continuously visit our home to monitor us, they invited [meaning summoned] me five, six times, threatened to bash me and kill me, forcing me to abandon my faith.”

He added that the prison officers beat his father, causing all his teeth fall out. “My family suffers from serious hardship, the Vietnamese authorities oppresses and not respecting the human rights of [Vietnamese] ethnic minorities,” he said.

The Vietnamese People’s Evangelical Fellowship said the pastor has also been denied medical treatment for high blood pressure, rheumatism, and stomach inflammation. Prison authorities have also reportedly refused to deliver medicine to him, which was brought to the facility by his family.

RFA spoke to several human rights groups to learn about the erosion of human rights in the country ahead of International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

In June, Human Rights Watch reported that since the end of 2019, the crackdown has been intensifying, adding that it was aware of “at least 150 people convicted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression or association and currently in prison,” and 15 more on pretrial detention.

“Vietnam has one of the worst human rights records in Southeast Asia. It has some of the largest number of political prisoners and is sentencing people to extremely long prison terms,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia Division, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

“We're seeing people sent to prison for 12 years or 14 years for basically exercising their civil and political rights or the right to freedom of expression, the right to peaceful public assembly, and the right to associate without government permission.”

Robertson said that COVID-19 has allowed Vietnam’s government to get away with intensifying crackdowns.

“In fact, it's getting worse. And that is certainly the case this year where we have seen a renewed crackdown by the authorities, taking advantage of the distraction of the international community with many countries in Europe and North America preoccupied with their own situation in the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“No one has been looking over their shoulder and no one has been objecting to them going after the dissidents and trying to potentially destroy what remains of the pro-democracy pro-human rights movement on the ground in Vietnam,” Robertson said.

In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF noted that Hmong and Montagnard Christians in Vietnam’s Northern and Central Highlands are regularly harassed, detained, or even banished because of their religious affiliation. Because of this, USCIRF has recommended that Vietnam be designated as a Country of Particular Concern every year since 2002.

Vietnam is ranked 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.

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