Vietnamese Pastor Arrested, Questioned

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Tran Mai released with orders to appear for further interrogation.

Special to Compass Direct

HO CHI MINH CITY, September 7 (Compass) – Eight days after his arrest, prominent Vietnamese house church leader Rev. Tran Mai walked back into his house in Ho Chi Minh City at 11 p.m. on September 6. However, he arrived home with orders to appear for further interrogation just nine hours later at the city headquarters of the Ministry of Public Security.

Pastor Mai, leader of a house church organization known as the Inter-Evangelistic Movement, was arrested on Sunday morning, August 29, as he crossed a land border into Vietnam after several months abroad.

He was allowed a brief call to his wife, but police refused to tell his wife where he was or on what charges they were holding him.

Immediately following his arrest, Mai’s wife and colleagues issued an appeal for prayer for his safety. However they decided to wait a few days before raising an international alarm.

Yesterday, within an hour after friends abroad were asked to raise the alarm, Pastor Mai walked in the door.

The timing of Mai’s release is intriguing, given the fact that the Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship (VEF), an association of house church groups of which Mai’s group is an active member, published a circular on August 30 calling for a three-day period of fasting and prayer from September 5 to 7. In the circular, Christians were urged to pray for the protection of house churches, especially in light of Vietnam’s new Ordinance on Religion scheduled to come into effect on November 15.

Approximately 1,000 VEF Christians gathered at a prayer meeting in Ho Chi Minh City on September 5. They extended their prayers to Mai also, who walked back into his home on the following day.

During his brief imprisonment, Mai was held in three separate cells in and around the city of Chau Doc in the Mekong delta. Already in frail health, he was concerned when he was thrown into a cell crowded with drug addicts and AIDS victims.

It is still not clear on what charges or pretext Mai was arrested. However, the fact that police from Ho Chi Minh City took part in his interrogation is an indication that the central government was involved.

Police questioned Mai about his activities abroad and his role in the distribution of Christian literature during the South East Asian Games held in Ho Chi Minh City in December 2003.

They also questioned him on his connection to the Rev. Bui Van Ba, arrested in August 2003 during a police raid on a prayer meeting held in his own home. After a well-coordinated international protest, the trial of Ba for “resisting an officer doing his official duty” was postponed in January 2004, just 24 hours before it was scheduled to begin.

Finally, Mai was asked about his relationship with the Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang, an imprisoned Mennonite pastor, lawyer and social activist. Vietnamese authorities are expected to announce criminal proceedings against Quang within the next few weeks.

It remains to be seen what charges may or may not be brought against Mai.