Vietnamese authorities slammed the doors on Christmas celebrations in two of the country’s largest cities in what probably was the highest profile move recently to step up persecution of the Christians in southeast Asia.
Officials in Hanoi and Da Nang locked out the Christians from the buildings and police surrounded the meeting facility in Hanoi and moved in to force the crowds to disperse.
Compass Direct reports that the harassment was aimed at literally hundreds of Christians from 10 northern provinces.
Four other celebrations also were targeted by the government action. Reports coming out of Vietnam say that the lockouts and police actions happened even after local officials promised permits to the groups holding the events.
Montagnard Foundation Director Kok Ksor says the government’s actions over the Christmas parties are consistent with how the government deals with Christianity in general.
“The government lies like that all the time. They will say that the people have religious freedom and they say they allow people to worship God and that all beliefs are protected by law,” Ksor stated.
Listen to an interview with Ksor:
“That’s a lie and the people listen to them. I don’t know why,” Ksor remarked.
“It’s not the only time. Every year people get hurt because they want to worship God. Now the people can’t do anything for fear of the police.”
Another celebration scheduled for Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) was given the green light only five hours before it was to begin. An estimated 20,000 people were at the Dec. 26 event.
The Montagnard Foundation director explained that the actions of the government in the city are a mere reflection of the more severe anti-Christian persecution aimed at Christians in the rest of the country.
“The persecution of the hill country is very tough and not like the persecution in the cities like Hanoi and Saigon and many other places in Vietnam,” Ksor related.
“In the Central Highlands, it’s very tough especially for the people who want to really believe and worship the true God,” Ksor explained.
He says the persecution isn’t as heavy for those who are willing to cooperate and worship in a government-approved church.
“There it’s OK, they can do anything they want to,” Ksor explained. “It’s OK, but before they worship they have to praise the party (the Communist Party), and sing the party songs before you ever get to worship the Lord.”
“The government controls what they can preach and what they can’t preach in the church,” Ksor explained further.
The city events coupled with official government persecution of the Montagnards make Vietnam one of the world’s most severe persecutors of Christians.
But persecution also is growing in Laos, where a village chief, religious affairs leader, military and security forces teamed up with Katin villagers to
destroy the rice plots of seven Christian families and threaten all 15 people with bodily injury if they didn’t leave the village.
Reports coming out of Laos say that the Katin village chief and other local officials stormed into the homes of seven Christian families and ordered at gunpoint that they renounce their Christian faith.
The 15 refused and were marched outside the village and ordered not to return. They are now seeking temporary shelter with the 56 Christian villagers who were driven out in January.
Two sources who have asked not to be identified gave the same account, but the Laotian embassy has not yet responded to requests for comment.
Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom spokesman Sirikoon Prasertsee says these incidents happen all the time in Laos.
“This incident isn’t isolated. This has been happening for a long time, since the 1990s up until now,” Prasertsee said.
“It’s widespread. We’re only able to bring to light the incidents in the areas where the people are very much connected to us. But now we’re finding out there are many other areas and provinces we need to bring to light so things can be resolved,” Prasertsee explained.
“At this point, it’s still widespread, but it’s been a little bit contained more now than in the past, but it’s still widespread,” Prasertsee observed.
He adds that there are two main factors involved. The first is that Christianity is associated with colonialism.
“One is that Christianity is associated with foreign powers and so the Lao government is still very suspicious of Christianity because of its affiliation or at least its past connection with colonial powers that have been very influential in this part of the world,” Prasertsee explained.
“I think that formed the basis for continuing support for any effort to eliminate Christianity,” Prasertsee added.
The second factor is cultural.
“Christianity is not seen as local or national in origin. It’s seen as very much foreign to the people. Anything local or indigenous seems to promote harmony and Christianity seems to promote division,” Prasertsee stated.
“When someone becomes a Christian, it has the appearance of dividing families or people no longer holding to the same religion,” Prasertsee added.
Prasertsee says Decree 92, promulgated in 2002 by the prime minister, the constitution and international law guarantees religious freedom, but the government reserves the right to intervene if something promotes social division.
The right of intervention is the basis for the latest round of persecution.
Prasertsee also says the coercion and vandalism is all done with the knowledge and support of the regime in Vientiane.
“In the past, it was obvious that the persecution was governmental and official. In the last five years, more local officials have been involved in the persecution. Nothing is really done without the official endorsement,” Prasertsee explained.
“Sometime, the action is communicated informally, but it is done with the knowledge and endorsement and support of the government,” he continued.
“In the past, since the international community has not gotten involved, the central government has gotten away with a lot of persecution. But in the last 10 years, the media, at least the Internet and communication technology has been helpful in exposing this,” Prasertsee added.
With the increased scrutiny, the central government has had to take a back seat.
“So, it (the persecution) has been turned over to the local authorities. Still, it’s not done without their (the central government) knowledge. They’ve known about it or endorsed it officially or unofficially,” Prasertsee stated.
With the people being driven from their homes, that means there are refugees.
Prasertsee says the refugees stay in country, and that’s a good thing.
“Leaving the country will not resolve the issuesof religious freedom, because in 1975, you basically had most of the Christian leaders leaving the country. Freedoms are obtained by those on the inside,” Prasertsee observed.
“Right now one of the best ways to secure religious freedom is to educate and to help local believers to be informed of the local mechanisms that are in place in the laws in the country as well as international law,” he added.
The Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom spokesman says there are two things that will turn around the situation for Laotian Christians.
“We need to show a positive part of the reconstruction of the country so that Christianity is not viewed as anti-government,” he stated. “Laotian Christians can show that Christianity is not a threat to the nation.”
He said publicity is the other factor.
“The pressure from the global community is working. There is evidence all over that it is working to help bring about freedom in many parts of the country. If we can keep the international pressure on, that’s the only channel we have now to help the government to move forward – positive external pressure,” Prasertsee explained.
“The work of a journalist is very important to put the kind of pressure on Laos. We have evidence that it’s working at this point,” Prasertsee said.