This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Followers of the Evangelical Church of Christ in Vietnam’s Dak Lak province have accused local police of monitoring and disrupting their worship for nearly a month.
Their claims came just ahead of Wednesday’s U.S. Human Rights Dialogue in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. One of the issues that will be raised is the right to religious freedom.
Y Nguyet Bkrong, one of the followers of Vietnam’s biggest Protestant church, said that around 7:30 a.m. on Sunday around 20 believers gathered at his house to pray. After 10 minutes, plain clothes police arrived and told them to stop the ceremony. They also ordered everyone who was not registered as a resident of the house to leave.
“When I performed Christian religious rites … 15 people from the commune and city police as well as the People’s Committee of Hoa Thang Commune, came. They didn’t allow us to practice religious activities,” said church follower Y Coi.
“They said that whatever [religion] the State has not yet recognized will not be allowed to practice. The Evangelical Church of Christ has no legal entity, so if we continue, they are likely to take tougher measures.”
Before the followers left, he said the police made two copies of a statement and gave one copy to him.
“30 minutes after everyone left, officials came back and asked me to give them back the document,” he said.
“They threatened that if I didn’t return it, they would get orders from their superiors to search my house. I was alone at the time, so I had to obey their request.”
Ceremonies in Buon Ma Thuot city also stopped
A similar incident happened on the same morning at the home church of Evangelical Church of Christ follower Y Lui Bya in Buon Ma Thuot city, the capital of Dak Lak province. More than a dozen plainclothes and uniformed police burst into the house, preventing worshipers from performing religious rites.
“The police said that the State does not recognize or allow our sect,” he said.
“Believers asked them why the state did not recognize our sect if there is a freedom of religion.
“Then they threatened to demolish the house that was worshiping God. They wanted to beat my son-in-law. They threatened us, telling us to sign a statement but we refused.”
RFA called the Buon Ma Thuot City Police at the phone number posted on the Dak Lak Provincial Police Portal. The officer on duty hung up after being questioned about the incident and nobody answered when we called back.
Y Nguyet Bkrong, Y Coi and Y Lui Bya all said they were kept under constant surveillance last month.
Y Lui said he has been watched by the police since Oct. 13.
“I am still under surveillance now. They always follow wherever I go. When I go to the fields, they also follow.”
Y Coi told RFA that from Oct. 13 to 17, he was watched and was followed by police wherever he went. From Oct. 27 to 29, he said the police set up night surveillance in front of his house:
“The Communist government of Vietnam carries out strict surveillance. I don’t know why they were on guard, not letting me go anywhere. I have pictures as evidence that the provincial police and the city police monitored me,” he said.
He said that while giving an interview to RFA on Monday evening, more than a dozen policemen were in front of his house.
“Whenever there is a U.S. delegation to Vietnam, the first thing they do is go to each house … so sometimes I feel stressed and unsafe.”
Protestants in Central Highlands accused of trying to establish their own State
The Vietnamese government has repeatedly accused the Protestant Church in the Central Highlands of being a reactionary organization, taking advantage of religion to oppose the State.
In January, the People’s Police newspaper website published an article accusing them of gathering dignitaries and ethnic minority believers in the Central Highlands and also in the U.S. to “gather force, fight for religious freedom, democracy and human rights. To proceed to establish their own religion and an ethnic minority State in the Central Highlands.”
The churchgoers RFA interviewed all denied the accusations.
“My religious activities at home are not meant to oppose or overthrow them in any way,” said Y Nguyet Bkrong.
“Here it is just religious belief, worshiping without the supervision of the Government, being free to worship God, not as they say, taking advantage of religion to oppose them.”
Y Coi served eight years in prison for “conducting anti-state propaganda” as a result of his religious activities. He said that since being released from prison, he has been constantly harassed and his family have been unable to run a stable business.
“They summon me again and again, threatening everything,” he said.
“They say we are against the people’s government, against the Party and the State. But the fact is that we are not against the State. I want to rebuild the church, the church should be separate and independent.”
The 26th U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue on Nov. 2 will be led by the U.S. Senior Bureau Official for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Erin Barclay and Vietnamese Assistant Foreign Minister Do Hung Viet. America’s Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain will also attend.