By Worthy News Asia Service with reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos
HANOI, VIETNAM (Worthy News)-- Christian rights activists asked Vietnam Monday, November 29, to release pastors who received long prison terms on charges of “undermining national unity."
Pastor Ksor Y Du was given six years, with four years house arrest, while Pastor Kpa Y Co was given four years, with two years house arrest in a November 15 trial in Phu Yen province, Worthy News learned.
The two Pastors from the Ede ethnic group belong to the Vietnam Good News Mission (VGM), a denomination not recognized by the Vietnamese government.
Vietnamese legislation contains provision for groups of all denominations to register with the government. "However, applications submitted by VGM in the Central Highlands are routinely rejected and their members are pressurized to join the officially recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam – South (ECVN-S)," said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), an advocacy group closely monitoring the case.
The pastors were detained on January 27 at their homes in Song Hinh District of Phu Yen province, Christians said. "Contrary to Vietnamese law, arrest papers were not given to the families, nor were they formally charged for ten months," CSW said.
Both reported ill-treatment in detention and at the time of arrest.
"It is suspected that the pair have been targeted due to a widely-held erroneous suspicion among officials that VGM activity in Phu Yen is used as a cover for separatist activities." CSW explained.
The Vietnamese Phap Luat Newspaper reported on November 16 that evidence presented at the trial showed that Pastor Y Du had made 58 phone calls to the United States as part of his alleged efforts to seek connections with overseas separatist groups. He was allegedly involved in inciting others to join the illegal ‘Dega’ church.
Pastor Y Du reportedly admitted calling a relative in the US three times, but said it was to ask for financial assistance to purchase medicine and make repairs to the family’s house.
He previously spent four years in prison and one year’s house arrest for his involvement in the 2004 demonstrations against "religious oppression" and "land seizures" in the Central Highland area, CSW said. "He was caught when trying to flee the military crackdown by crossing into Cambodia."
However Pastor Y Du’s wife, A Le H’Gioi suggested the latest arrests were part of efforts to force them to renounce Christianity and their evangelical activities. She reportedly said that she was visited at home by a Communist Party official in charge of Protestantism in the region, who allegedly pressurized her to renounce her faith in exchange for her husband’s freedom, a new house and a sack of rice each month.
And, A Le H’Gioi reported that the presiding judge at the trial "addressed the matter of their faith directly, asking Pastor Y Du, "Do you still insist on following the religion?" and, "After serving in prison already do you still insist on staying with the denomination?" Pastor Y Du replied saying he would not give up his faith, even if it meant death, CSW added.
CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, "CSW calls upon the Vietnamese government to respect the rights of all Vietnamese to religious freedom by releasing Pastor Y Du and Pastor Y Co, whose cases did not follow due procedure in domestic or international law. The Vietnamese government is urged to respect the rights of all its citizens to belong to religious groups of their choosing."
News of the detentions comes also amid concerns about reports of torture of Christians in the Central Highlands, including an 80-year old Degar-Montagnard woman.
Ksor H’Ble was allegedly attacked multiple times she is the mother of Kok Ksor an exiled Vietnamese man who leads the Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI, which represents Degar-Montagnard Christians.
MFI said she was visited on October 29 by several police and government forces who pressured her to distance herself from her son and his activities.
The officials from the province of Dak Lak and the central government "came to house of Ksor H’Ble at the village of Bon Broai at around 3 O’clock in the afternoon. They ordered her to speak out against Kok Ksor to all of the Degar people in the Central Highlands and to repeat these words in front of video camera...She refused," despite being "harassed and bullied" MFI explained.
This was not the first incident. "After the first peaceful and nonviolent protests on February 2 of 2001, Ms. Ksor H’Ble was arrested and tortured by the Vietnamese security police who broke three of her ribs. Later, during our people’s peaceful and nonviolent protest in 2004, Ms. Ksor H’Ble was again arrested and tortured in front of an eyewitness who is now living in Canada," MFI said.
"According to the witness, security police shot Ms. Ksor H’Ble with an electrical gun, knocked her down and took her by her hair and pulled her around a nearby paddy field," the group alleged. "Two of her sons saw the incident and were able to prevent the security guards from murdering her at that time."
Vietnam has in the past denied wrongdoing and openly questioned the MFI reports.
However rights groups have urged the United States to again include Vietnam in its annual list of Countries of Particular Concern regarding religious rights violations.