Vietnam: 14 Tribal Pastors Sent to Undisclosed Prison

Sunday, August 11, 2002

A confidential contact told Christian Aid Monday that 14 Vietnamese pastors were arrested in that country's Central Highlands in the last two weeks. The exact location of these pastors is not certain.

This brings to 26 the known number of Christian pastors laboring in Vietnam's rural prison system, including 12 who remain in the notorious brick kilns in the North.

Even though the Communist government has been attempting to convince the world it is taking steps to improve its stance on human rights, in actual practice authorities there have been pressing a brutal persecution campaign against Christians in the Central Highlands and other tribal areas.

The recent arrests were in retaliation for the Vietnamese Christians who recently obtained refugee status after fleeing to Cambodia and were given clearance to immigrate to the United States, the contact said.

"The greatest obstacles faced by the Vietnamese people who desire to come to the Christian faith include ancestor worship and the brutality of the local authorities," said Steve Snyder, president of Washington, DC-based International Christian Concern who visited Vietnam on a fact-finding mission in March. "People who become Christians are discriminated against and may be watched, fined, they lose their job, their children are not allowed in school, their movements are restricted, and they are omitted from any government assistance during floods that commonly plague the country." Snyder's complete report can be found at

The Hmong along the Chinese border probably suffer the most. Of the 600,000 Hmong living in the region, over 14,000 have fled to the central highlands in the last five years.

House meetings of tribal Christians are routinely broken up by Public Security Police, who wantonly confiscate Bibles, hymnals, and personal property and furnishings of the believers. Some families are forced to flee their homes with only what they can carry on foot; others flee taking nothing with them so they won't attract attention.

Pastors especially are targeted by authorities. In some localities pastors are forbidden to leave their villages after dark. Sometimes a policeman is assigned to sleep in the pastor's house and eat the family's food without compensation in order to monitor the family's activities. Authorities sometimes come in the middle of the night while the family is asleep and take the pastor away to an undisclosed location. The pastors are sentenced arbitrarily, though typically for three-year terms. During this time the families must figure out how to survive without them.

In the northern prisons, the Hmong pastors are required to work in the brick kilns 10 hours a day, seven days a week. They have to carry 2000 bricks a day to receive their ration of food. If they fail to meet their quota, or can't work because they are sick, they get no food.

Despite extreme difficulties, there are estimated to be hundreds of thousands of believers among the Hmong and other tribal groups. Despite risk of being raided, beaten and deprived of their belongings and even loved ones, these tribal Christians continue to meet in small house groups. Building church buildings is illegal. Many of them need Bibles. Others of them are undergoing leadership training sessions, even though they know this could lead to beatings and imprisonment. Some of the house-church leaders could use bicycles or motorcycles.