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Vietnamese officials hold talks with Protestant church leaders

HO CHI MINH CITY (BP)–In what may be a small breakthrough for religious liberty in Vietnam, government religion authorities invited five leaders of Protestant house church organizations and nondenominational missions to Hanoi for “informal talks” in early March, Compass Direct news service reported March 20.

Compass described such a meeting as rare in Vietnam, where the Bureau of Religious Affairs and other governmental bodies rarely consult the religious groups they are assigned to control.

The government’s Institute for the Study of Religion invited the Protestant delegation to participate in a seminar on Protestantism on March 5. The group attended the seminar for a half day and met with representatives of the Fatherland Front, a state organization with the responsibility to mobilize so-called “mass organizations,” including religions, to support the party line and government policies. The Fatherland Front often helps carry out anti-Christian activity at the local level.

The delegation also met with the special A38 unit of the Ministry of Public Security that deals with religious matters.

Members of the Protestant delegation were Nguyen Duy Thang of the Church of God, Dinh Thien Tu and Huynh Huyen Vu of the Christian Inter-Fellowship Church, Duong Thanh Lam of the Vietnam Assemblies of God Church and Doan Trung Tin, leader of the Vietnam Good News Mission.

Together these groups represent more than 1,400 illegal house congregations and hundreds of evangelists, according to Compass.

The Protestant leaders reported that “frank and sincere discussions took place in an atmosphere of mutual respect,” Compass reported. They raised the sensitive issue of the intense persecution of minority Montagnard Protestant Christians in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. They also suggested that authorities in Hanoi should arrange a larger dialogue between Protestant leaders and the various government bodies that exercise jurisdiction over religious affairs.

The meeting took place at a time when Vietnam has markedly increased its activities against the Montagnard Christians and against Hmong Christians in northwest provinces.

Since September 2002, according to Compass, authorities have ordered the disbanding of more than 400 Ede minority churches in Dak Lak province alone. Recent reports also detail the destruction by chainsaws of wood pole chapels of the Mnong minority in the same province. In another Central Highlands province, Gia Lai, only four of some 370 churches have been legally recognized.

The vast majority of these troubled churches belong to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) that was officially recognized in April 2001. The government, however, refuses to recognize the historical ECVN(S) relationship with the minority churches, Compass reported, and instead interrogates and threatens minority church leaders and holds public ceremonies in which the leaders are forced to declare their illegality and pledge to cease Christian activities.

In one September 2002 government television broadcast of such an event, Christians were shown to be “voluntarily” surrendering their Bibles and other Christian books, Compass reported.
Used by permission of Compass Direct, a news service focusing on persecuted Christians and based in Santa Ana, Calif.

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