By Worthy News Asia Service with reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos
HANOI, VIETNAM (Worthy News)-- There was international concern Monday, May 31, that the widow of a murdered Vietnamese Christian will be forced to give up her children to the Communist-run state, rights activists said.
"H’Nguen, was forced to take her two children, H’Danh and Y-Ly, to the Nhan Hoa Police Station" on May 3 "and told she must sign documents giving custody to the government," said International Christian Concern (ICC), an advocacy group closely monitoring the case.
Her husband, Montagnard Christian K’pa Lot, died in March of torture while being detained for publicly expressing his Christian faith and fighting for religious rights, ICC and other activists said.
The 31-year-old Lot died in a Pleiku hospital, explained the Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI) which represents Montagnard Christians in Vietnam's Central Highlands.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ADVOCATE
"He was arrested May 20, 2007 and imprisoned in Phu Yen province for publicly supporting religious freedom," MFI said.
Vietnamese authorities have been cracking down on Montagnard Christians operating outside the state-run churches, Christians say. Vietnam's government has denied wrongdoing.
MFI spokesman Scott Johnson said in a statement that he fears Lot's widow and he children now become the next target for persecution. "At the police station the security forces placed a document in front of H’Nguen," Johnson added in published remarks. "In this case they are harassing them, they are trying to coerce her to sign the kids over to them."
He said authorities wanted to take revenge "on the wife for telling [the Montagnard Foundation] what Kpa Lot's last words were.” He referred to K’pa Lot apparently whispering to his wife, H’Nguen, that Vietnamese officials had severely tortured him in prison and that he was kept in isolation from other prisoners and international monitors.
He died hours later from internal bleeding, according to MFI investigators.
"NOT COMPETENT" MOTHER
"The police stated that she would not be allowed to see her children until they turned 18. H’Nguen refused, pleading emphatically that she was fully competent to care for her children," Scott said about this month's incident.
"For six hours the police tried to force her to sign the document until she was finally released with the children that afternoon. The document was some sort of proof they wanted to show she agreed to her children being taken."
The May 3 incident reportedly occurred in the village of Nhan Hoa in Gia Lai province and the latest in a series of attacks against Montagnard Christians in the area, ICC said.
ICC’s Regional Manager, Logan Maurer, said "K’Pa’s torture and death was a tragic example of the brutal religious persecution that still occurs today in Vietnam. It is all the more telling that his wife is now being threatened for getting word out."
Maurer described plans to "take away her children" as "desperate action by a state that is attempting to coerce her into silence."
U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
MFI and ICC have urged the United States State Department to hold Vietnam accountable by investigating the actions against the widowed mother, as well as the events surrounding the death of her husband.
The incident comes amid concerns about reports that Vietnam has stepped up surveillance of mobile phones of those considered to be enemies of the state, MFI added.
"The government doesn't know who has cell phones in the country, but if they hear a conversation by a political opponent, they'll go to the village where he or she lives, take away the phone and frequently put the person in prison," said MFI President Kok Ksor.
"It's not just Christians they'll listen to. They listen in on anyone who has a cell phone. If they find anything in the conversations they don't like, especially if it's someone with family in the United States, they'll arrest the person and torture them and sometimes put them in prison for a long time," Ksor explained.
Rights groups say that while Vietnam has introduced economic reforms it has not fully extended those freedoms to the areas of religion and politics.