Jailed Mennonite Pastor Quang is Denied Rights to Defense
Washington, DC, November 23, 2004 (Center for Religious Freedom) — New evidence has come to light, in secretly recorded tapes obtained by Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom, of oppression of native Mennonite leaders in Vietnam.
The focus of this intimidation, in an officially organized public humiliation session, was Le Thi Phu Dung, the wife of recently sentenced Vietnamese Mennonite Pastor Quang. Mrs. Quang has been operating a house church in the couple’s home in Ho Chi Minh City, and has assumed leadership of the Vietnam Mennonite Church, since her husband’s arrest on June 8, 2004.
She has been repeatedly harassed and threatened with arrest by authorities, beginning with the period immediately before her husband’s trial November 12, and culminating last Sunday, November 21, with 40 public security police disrupting the church service at the Quang home and formally citing everyone present for meeting illegally and continuing to use the premise for religious purposes.
The November 10 public humiliation session was the only documented incident of the official campaign against the Quangs and its transcript clearly demonstrates that they are in trouble with the authorities for leading unauthorized Christian worship.
“The revelation of the blatant harassment of Mrs. Quang in the days leading up to and following the trial of her husband is evidence of heavy-handed tactics intended to intimidate Mennonite believers in Vietnam and shut down churches it does not approve of,” said Nina Shea, Director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom.
Witnesses told Freedom House that, during the so-called “community evaluation” meeting, 16 “community representatives” appointed by officials used a bullhorn to publicly harangue Mrs. Quang and her family for being troublemakers and disturbing the public order. They ordered her to stop Christian worship services in the Quang home as she and her husband have done for the past six years, to remove the church sign over their gate, and to expel the students living at the property. Mrs. Quang did not attend the session, instead meeting with her husband’s defense counsel in anticipation of his trial two days later.
The day after the public humiliation session and again on November 13, the delegation of “community representatives,” went to Mrs. Quang’s home, berated her for not attending, and informed her of the ban against the housechurch, according to the Christian news agency Compass Direct. If she did not comply, she was warned, she and her children would be forced from their home.
Freedom House learned that to Mrs. Quang’s question on whether there was a law against holding worship services, she was given a letter later that day signed by Mr. Nguyen Van Hai, chairman of the ward’s people’s committee. It stated: “The State always guarantees freedom of religion and religious belief of all citizens, but it must be according to the law.” It then quotes articles 7 and 19 from the 1999 Decree on Religion No. 26. These articles state that religious activities can only occur in a place of worship approved by the state, and be led by religious leaders authorized by the state who have asked and received permission to lead religious activities. Vietnam continues to outlaw all house churches and does not recognize their leaders.
On Sunday, November 14, the Mennonite Christians defied authorities and again met at the Quang home for worship. On the evening of November 15th, two-dozen police officers surrounded and raided the home and issued a summons to Mrs. Quang and the resident students, warning that if the students did not leave they would be arrested and accusing Mrs. Quang of illegally harbouring people in her home. The students’ papers had been in order until authorities confiscated them when the students were summoned to the local police station a few weeks earlier.
On November 21, the services were disrupted by 40 police agents and the congregants issued citations.
Freedom House also learned that at Pastor Quang’s November 12th trial for “resisting officers of the law while doing their duty,” which was closed to foreign observers, the government denied the defense the right to call witnesses. Rev. Quang was sentenced to three years in prison and six other church workers also received prison sentences.
“The ‘kangaroo court’ trial of Rev. Quang, in combination with the persecution of his wife, point to a concerted effort by Vietnamese authorities to repress the religious freedom of independent Christian believers, and are a reminder of why the country was designated a country of particular concern by the U.S. State Department, under the International Religious Freedom Act, two months ago,” Shea concluded.