Security Police Interfere in Worship Celebration in Vietnam

Friday, March 12, 2004

Officers harass worshippers at evangelical rally in Ho Chi Minh City theater.
Special to Compass Direct

LOS ANGELES, March 12 (Compass) -- On the afternoon of March 4, public security police units surrounded the Quoc Thanh Theater at 271 Nguyen Trai Street in central Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, in an attempt to stop a joint worship celebration organized by evangelical Christian house churches, organizers reported.

When worship leaders arrived at the theater at 4 p.m., the sound system and air conditioning were working well. By 5 p.m., about 1,000 worshippers had taken their places in the theater, but another 500 were prevented by police from entering.

Police then ordered electricity cut to the theater. The worshippers were plunged into total darkness and soon felt oppressive heat as the air conditioning system shut down. Although all theaters have a standby generator in case of a public power failure, the police refused to let the theater manager start the generator.

Nevertheless, the Christians present began their worship, although the unventilated atmosphere became very oppressive. Worshippers used the glow of their mobile phones and light from camera flashes to provide some light. They noticed that foreigners from Singapore, Japan, Malaysia and other Asian countries had joined them.

The theater manager, hands clasped, bowed and begged the pastors leading the meeting to ask the people to go home. When asked who had ordered him ask the Christians to leave, he refused to answer.

According to one organizer, “A thousand pair of eyes easily spotted many members of Saigon’s plainclothes public security police, who seem to have but one object -- to interfere with the freedom to assemble and the freedom to practice religion by the citizens. We are very familiar with them.”

House church leaders identified some of the officers of the security police secret unit under the command of Major Bui Thanh Son, stationed outside as well as inside the theater. Many of the house church Christians have had encounters with these police numerous times before, as they have broken up house church worship services and harassed Christian believers in other ways.

Christians say that, should they challenge the police, they will be charged with “disturbing public order” or with “interfering with an officer doing his duty.”

“It is the increasingly common experience of many poor Vietnamese citizens that when they are oppressed, or their property is confiscated, or their freedoms otherwise violated and they protest, they will be charged,” one leader told Compass.

This is not the first time security police have sabotaged large worship services organized by the house church leaders. But this time, in spite of all efforts to hinder the meeting, the Christians persisted.

“The security police did their best to engulf us in darkness, but the faith of our Christians shone a bright light anyway,” said one participant. “By continuing such shameful actions against peaceful people, our country will continue to lose the respect of both its own citizens and the world community,” one house church leader said.