Prominent Hmong Christian Leader Arrested & Extradited
Hmong Forced To Recant Faith
December 4, 2003
by Center for Religious Freedom
While Vietnam courts international approval by hosting the Southeast Asian games that begin on December 5, its officials continue their crackdown against the country’s tribal Christians far from the international eye, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom said today.
The Center has received a reliable report that on November 29 authorities forcibly transferred detained Hmong Christian leader, Mr. Ma Van Bay, from Binh Phuoc Province to his former home in Ha Giang Province. He now faces the possibility of serious abuse.
This latest case follows a pattern of official abuse of Vietnam’s ethnic Hmong Christian minority.
“The U.S. State Department must designate Vietnam as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ under the International Religious Freedom Act,” said Center for Religious Freedom director Nina Shea. “There can be no doubt that the repression against the Hmong is directed against their identity as Christians and that it is systematic, ongoing and egregious.”
Mr. Bay’s arrest in Bu Dang District of Binh Phuoc Province on November 17 and his extradition 12 days later to Ha Giang Province has alarmed Christians who have long complained of the regional authority’s intolerance and brutality. The Center reported on October 1, 2003 that on July 1 police in Ha Giang beat to death another Hmong Christian leader, Mr. Vang Seo Giao, and disposed of his body in a river.
Mr. Bay became a Christian in the early 1990s and soon became a leader of the rapidly growing Christian community in his province. During a wave of oppression in 1997, Mr. Bay, a church elder responsible for his congregation’s modest finances, was falsely accused by the authorities of “stealing money from the citizen for personal gain.” He was then charged with illegally following and propagating the Christian religion.
Badly beaten after his arrest and facing a possible 12-year prison sentence, Mr. Bay escaped custody and became one of the first of now thousands of Hmong to flee to Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Protected by Christians of another minority group, Mr. Bay has become over the past six years a key leader among the large Hmong Christian community who have sought refuge in the Central Highlands. He has worked to translate Christian materials into the Hmong language.
A Freedom House source who spoke to Mr. Bay’s colleagues in Vietnam this past weekend was told: “Ha Giang police came to Binh Phuoc to extradite him to the Bac Quang District prison in Ha Giang province on Saturday. This was his home where he was first arrested where he escaped custody. We are very concerned that he will be severely tortured by the police there. Please speak up for him and the many Hmong who are persecuted.”
The Center for Religious Freedom received additional reports that on October 21 some 30 Public Security Police swept through Phi Va Village, Cam Te Commune, Muong Lay District in Lai Chau Province, forcing residents to sign papers renouncing Christianity. When the believers refused to sign, the police reportedly beat a woman unconscious.
This incident is part of a larger anti-Christian wave of persecution currently underway in Lai Chau Province. The Center reported in an April 28 press release that police and soldiers are being sent to villages to monitor and harass Christians and to pressure them to sign statements recanting their faith and pledging to re-establish ancestor worship (see English translation of a pledge card used by Vietnam officials on the Center’s website.)