Protestant Activist Survives Assassination Attempt in Vietnam

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

At Least 15 Christians are Arrested in Police Crackdown
Special to Compass Direct

HO CHI MINH CITY, December 10 (Compass) -- Public Security police in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) allegedly attempted to assassinate the Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang at about 9 p.m. on December 9 by staging a motorcycle “accident,” according to the Vietnamese Mennonite Church in Saigon.

Rev. Quang is a leader of the Mennonite house churches in Vietnam and a bold activist for religious freedom and other human rights.

Earlier the same evening, Pastor Quang and another house church leader had met with Jean Geran of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, who was visiting from Washington, D.C., to discuss religious liberty abuses. After the meeting, the two Vietnamese church leaders went to report to a colleague, the Rev. Tran Mai, who lives in central Saigon.

After leaving Rev. Mai, the small motorbike on which Pastor Quang was riding pillion behind a colleague, Evangelist Pham Ngoc Thach, was deliberately rammed by a very large speeding motorcycle driven by a plainclothes policeman.

Pastor Quang -- who has survived previous attacks on his life -- and those close to him are convinced this was a clear attempt to “neutralize” him by “accident.”

Miraculously the two men were not seriously injured. But immediately after the “accident,” a number of police armed with rifles, handguns and electric cattle prods attacked both Quang and Thach. The police managed to subdue Evangelist Thach, but Pastor Quang escaped on foot and took refuge back in the house of the Rev. Mai. From there he phoned other house church leaders to alert them of the attack.

Evangelist Thach was taken into police custody at the Nguyen Thai Binh Precinct in District One for interrogation. He was reportedly abused by the police.

By 11:30 that night, Pastor Quang had managed to return to his home and organize 16 Christians to go the police station for a sit-in, hunger strike and prayer vigil to demand the release of Evangelist Thach.

Meanwhile, police were arresting at least 15 other Christian workers in Saigon’s Districts Seven and Nine, as well as in the Tan Phu area, for allegedly handing out Christian literature to those attending Seagames 22 events in the city. The Rev. Tran Mai and the Rev. Le Quang Son of the Nazarene Church went out that evening, but did not return home or report to their families.

About 24 hours later, near midnight Wednesday, Saigon time, authorities released Evangelist Thach, as well as the Rev. Mai and the Rev. Son whom they had arrested and held in another location.

The Christians at the police station continue their hunger strike and prayer vigil, demanding that authorities release all the other workers who had been arrested and apologize unconditionally for the wrongful arrests. Christians have threatened a major street demonstration if the remaining detainees are not released by Thursday morning, Saigon time.