Five Christians injured as officials raze 'illegally constructed' worship place.
HO CHI MINH CITY (Compass Direct News) -- Local government officials in Dak Lak Province this morning made good on their threat to destroy a new wooden church building erected in September by Hmong Christians in Cu Hat village.
At 7 a.m. in Cu Dram Commune, Krong Bong district, a large contingent of government officials, police and demolition workers arrived at the site of a Vietnam Good News Mission and Church, razing it by 8:30 a.m. Police wielding electric cattle prods beat back hundreds of distraught Christians who rushed to the site to protect the building.
Five injured people were taken away in an emergency vehicle authorities had brought to the scene. The injured included a child who suffered a broken arm and a pregnant woman who fainted after being poked in the stomach with an electric cattle prod. Villagers said they fear she may miscarry.
By day's end one badly injured woman had not yet been returned to the village, and authorities would not divulge where she was.
One sad Vietnamese church leader said that the demolition of the church ahead of Christmas showed the heartlessness of officials toward Christian believers.
'They think no one will notice or do anything about what they do in a remote area,' he said.
Nearly eight years ago a congregation numbering more than 500 Hmong Christians had joined thousands of others fleeing persecution in Vietnam's northwest provinces, migrating to the Central Highlands. They aspired to construct a church building so they could worship protected from the rain and sun.
In September they were finally able to assemble materials needed to erect a 12-meter by 20-meter church building, large enough for them to meet. Eventually they were able to put a durable tile roof on the building, and with great joy they began worshipping together in a single location.
Although virtually all buildings in this area of Vietnam are erected without building permits, local authorities accused the Christians of 'illegal construction' and ordered the congregation to 'voluntarily' tear it down. On Dec. 2, Krong Bong district officials made a formal decision to demolish the church within two weeks if the Christians would not do so themselves.
The Vietnam Good News Mission and Church is an organization that for more than a year has tried to register more than a hundred of its congregations without any success. Contrary to Vietnam's new religion legislation, these requests for registration have either been denied or ignored.
Agony and Ecstasy
In contrast to this hostility toward ethnic minority Christians in a remote area, several Ho Chi Minh City congregations of the legally-recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) on Dec. 12-13 were allowed to hold a large Christmas celebration event in a soccer stadium.
An estimated 10,000 attended on each night of the event. The program, which featured a popular Vietnamese entertainer who recently came to faith in Christ, a U.S. soloist and Korean and Chinese choirs, included an evangelistic invitation to which hundreds responded.
In a country where Christians have suffered under communist attitudes and actions against them for more than 30 years, many Vietnamese Christians were ecstatic that such an event could take place.
Likewise, in Pleiku in Gia Lai Province in mid-October, some 20,000 Jarai ethnic minority Christians gathered to hold an unprecedented celebration of the 65th anniversary of the coming of the gospel to their people. They had sought permission for more than a year, but it was granted only four days before the event. Participants said they suspected officials granted permission chiefly because several high-profile U.S. visitors made it clear they would attend.
In contrast, authorities have worked to limit the spread of Christianity to new areas. In a remote commune of Lao Cai Province, officials pressured new Hmong Christians to recant their new faith and re-establish their ancestral altars (See Compass Direct News, 'Vietnamese Authorities Pressure New Christians to Recant,' Nov. 21).
Also, Christians in Dien Bien Province are trying to verify recent reports of the torching of Christian homes in the area.
Vietnam's large Catholic Church was also reawakened to authorities' residual hostility toward Christianity this year, with the government reacting violently to sustained but peaceful pressure by thousands to recover church land and buildings confiscated by authorities after the prime minister had agreed to negotiations.
Vietnam gave unusually light, house-arrest sentences to eight Catholics arrested during the prayer vigils-cum-protests. Previously others arrested for similar reasons have been sentenced to prison for years.
'Unfortunately, the mostly urban bright spots are cancelled by the persistence of old-style repression among Vietnam's ethnic minorities in remote areas,' said one veteran Vietnam observer. 'The easier registration of churches promised in 2005 is being granted very selectively and is used as a means of limiting and controlling Christianity.'
That central government authorities responsible for implementing improved religion policy seem to turn a blind eye to old-fashioned thugs at the local level, he added, 'is very discouraging to Vietnam's Christians. Religious freedom reserved for some is not religious freedom.'
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