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Vietnamese authorities prevent Christian group from meeting with U.S. diplomats

Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Berteau, command chaplain for the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, pours wine in preparation for communion during a Sunday church service aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tammy Hineline)
February 24, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Local authorities in southern Vietnam on Wednesday blocked U.S. diplomats from entering the homes of Christian leaders to keep them from discussing religious freedom in at least two remote villages, church members and social media posts reported.

Both incidents took place in Dak Lak province, in the southern end of the country’s Central Highlands region, which is home to several ethnic minority groups.

Over the past few months, authorities in the region have prevented many religious groups in the region from holding services or performing rituals on the excuse that the groups have not registered with the government and are therefore illegitimate.

Believers and their supporters say this is an infringement of the right to religious freedom. Though the Vietnamese constitution states that people have this right, the law allows the government to restrict religious practices if doing so is said to be in the interest of national security.

In one of the incidents, personnel from the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City were prevented from entering the homes of Y Kreec Bya, and Y Cung Nie, members of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ.

“A crowd of staff from local agencies and police officers gathering at the gate of my house did not allow the diplomats to come in and discuss with us,” Y Kreec Bya told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. “They also asked the diplomatic delegation to leave and did not allow them to shake hands or talk [with us].”

Y Kreec Bya also said police had been waiting in front of his home for more than a day, and they even threatened the church, saying if it does not stop its activities, they would take “tougher measures.”

Two other church members from a village 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) away were also made to stay in their homes on the day of the meeting. 

Aga, a pastor of the church who resides in North Carolina, said that the U.S. government has been aware of Vietnam’s intolerance of religious freedom in the Central Highlands region. He said that during the incident, the diplomats “witnessed all of Vietnam’s issues with their own eyes.”

Caught on video

Video footage posted on the Facebook page for a rights group called Montagnard Stand for Justice showed a similar incident that occurred on the same day, as U.S. diplomats were stopped from entering the home of Y Cung Nie. 

In the video, a woman wearing a name badge checked the IDs of the diplomats and then explained that they would not be able to enter the home, and that the religious groups were connected to people who would incite believers to “seek separation.” 

The diplomats then told Y Cung Nie that they would have to reschedule the meeting for a later date.

RFA contacted the Chief of Staff of Dak Lak Province People’s Committee, but he did not answer the phone. Le Van Nuoi – Vice Chairman of the People’s Committee of the district where the incident occurred, told RFA that reporters should see him in person if they wanted any related information.

Emails to the provincial headquarters and the district leaders of the various villages, as well as to the U.S. Consulate went unanswered as of Wednesday.