Vietnamese Authorities Offer Pastor Freedom for Confession

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Transferred to another prison, the Rev. Quang refuses to sign declaration.

Special to Compass Direct

HO CHI MINH CITY, August 15 (Compass) -- The Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang was working at a labor camp machine used to extract cashew nuts on August 9 when he was approached by high prison officials. They told him he would be moved immediately to another prison.

With no further explanation or time to prepare to leave, Rev. Quang was bundled into a comfortable staff car and driven with guards to the K1-Z30A Prison in Xuan Loc, Dong Nai Province, about 250 kilometers (155.3 miles) south of the Dak Lak prison camp where he had been held. He was not allowed to retrieve even his Bible.

Rev. Quang soon discovered the reason for this sudden transfer. Shortly after his arrival at the fifth prison since his arrest on June 8, 2004, officials indicated to Rev. Quang that he could be set free in connection with Vietnam’s traditional amnesty on the September 2 National Day. All he need do, they said, is sign a paper agreeing that he was guilty of the charges on which he had been tried and convicted.

Rev. Quang, who has maintained his innocence from the outset, told officials at the Dong Nai province prison that he would not change his position and admit to guilt now.

The pastor and five other Mennonite workers were arrested at various times between March and June 2004 in connection with an incident on March 2, 2004, when Rev. Quang confronted two plainclothes policemen who had harassed some of the workers and were staking out his home and church. The six Mennonites were convicted in a joint trial on November 12, 2004, and sentenced to various jail terms for “interfering with officers doing their duty.”

Rev. Quang’s lawyer, Nguyen Van Dai, presented what many considered a brilliant defense in an appeal to the People’s Supreme Court in April 2005. But Rev. Quang was overruled and his three-year sentence upheld.

The Mennonite prisoners, including a young woman, Le Thi Hong Lien, were subjected to harsh treatment in an attempt to make them accuse and betray Rev. Quang. Earlier this year, authorities released Lien during the April 30 Liberation Day amnesty, two months before the end of her sentence. Reports of the torture that resulted in her mental breakdown led to a wide international advocacy campaign. Lien was transferred to a mental hospital to allow for at least partial rehabilitation before she received the amnesty.

She also was pressured to sign an admission of guilt; she also refused.

“We find it interesting that Vietnamese authorities are so intent on getting Pastor Quang to admit guilt -- they have already declared him guilty,” a Vietnamese church leader told Compass. “We pray earnestly that he will be released anyway and be reunited with his wife and children and his church.”

The international advocacy around the Mennonite prisoners has caused major embarrassment for the Vietnamese government at a time it is urgently trying to show the world a kinder face in its treatment of religious groups. According to house church leaders and ethnic minority Christians in Vietnam, recent legislative measures on religion have not resulted in noticeable improvements.

No church organization has yet achieved legal registration, and church leaders have documented many ongoing attempts to force Christians to give up their faith.

In early September, the U.S. Department of State will announce whether Vietnam will again be named a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), the worst category of human rights offenders. In May, the U.S. administration announced that it had signed an agreement with Vietnam -- a secret exchange of letters how Vietnam could escape the CPC designation. Vietnam urgently needs removal of the CPC designation in order to obtain trouble-free trade with the United States, as well as for U. S. support for accession to the World Trade Organization.

“Failure to show improvement in the area of religious freedom and other human rights, at the very time Vietnam has promulgated legislation and is trumpeting improvements, should be worrisome to the world community relating to Vietnam,” a Compass Vietnam source observed. “Either the new legislation is a just a sham for public relations, as many religious leaders believe, or Vietnam’s central government lacks the authority to direct its local officials.”

Update on Rev. Quang’s Wife

Compass has also learned that Le Thi Phu Dzung, Rev. Quang’s wife and now president of the Vietnam Mennonite Church, has filed a petition to seek redress for the forcible demolition by local authorities of the Quang home and part of the Mennonite worship center on July 19.

The long document includes diagrams, official documents and photos demonstrating how authorities broke their own regulations in their aggressive campaign to stop the operation of the church. In the petition, Dzung informs authorities of her urgent need to repair the open back of the center as the demolition has threatened the structural integrity of the building and endangered her, her three children and the Mennonite Christians who worship there.

Copyright 2005 Compass Direct