Vietnamese Gas Church Service
March 28, 2003
by Center for Religious Freedom
Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom expressed its shock today over reports that Vietnamese authorities used noxious gas in an attack on Christian worshipers.
According to reliable witness reports, on December 29, 2002, Vietnamese officials disrupted Sunday prayer services in a home in Vietnam’s highland Lai Chau province. Reports prepared by the victims and obtained by Freedom House detail how the attack was carried out.
“It is outrageous that Vietnamese authorities continue to treat tribal Christians as the enemy and that Hanoi turns a blind eye to these victims,” said Center director Nina Shea. “We will ensure that the U.S. Congress reviews such blatant and cruel acts of religious repression during trade status hearings this spring,” she said.
According to the reports, on the morning of Sunday, December 29, 2002, many of the Christian residents of the Hmong village of Hoi Huong went to the home of Mr. Vu Say So for worship services. At 9:00 AM, the Christians were attacked by 23 officials from Dien Bien District. Some form of noxious gas—possibly tear gas—was released in the home, making the worshippers violently ill. Several were hospitalized. One woman suffered the premature loss of her baby.
Villagers were able to detain four officials thought to have been involved in the attack. Among several reports drafted, one includes signatures of the detained men and their admissions of responsibility for the attack. The officials were released.
The attack was preceded by warnings on December 20 and 21 by Dien Bien District officials, including by the chairman of the people’s committee, Mr. Lo Van Ngoc, that local Christians must “cease their praying and following of the [Protestant] religion” or else they would be “judged” and “hurt.”
One of the victims’ reports includes the names and positions of all 23 officials involved in the assault. They include police, military, the Fatherland Front and other government and Communist Party officials as well as representatives of state farmers’, women’s and youth organizations, indicating the attack was carried out according to Party and State policy.
The December 28 attack was allegedly carried out by a group known as “Unit 184,” named after “Plan 184,” an official, secret, anti-Christian plan obtained and published by Freedom House in November 2000.
The symptoms of the victims suggest that the substance used against them was tear gas, though this is not conclusive from the testimony. The victims describe a “hot gas” that “burned our eyes, noses and mouths” and made it “hard to breathe.” One document said, “We felt like we were being pricked with pins and needles all over our bodies.” Some victims collapsed when they were gassed. Many became nauseous and ill and a number of the women had to be taken to a medial clinic.
Some of the victims managed to get to Hanoi after the gassing incident despite attempts to restrict movements from the village. They took their story and documents to the main Evangelical church to seek advice. The senior minister of that church contacted officials of the Ministry of Public Security. Officials there promised an investigation. None has yet taken place.
The attack fits a pattern of official Vietnamese repression of minority faiths. In November, 2002, Freedom House released documents on the death by beating of a young Christian Hmong man named Mua Bua Senh. He was allegedly beaten because he would not recant his faith. Several Western governments pressed Vietnam to explain the death but so far no explanation has been provided. After his death, Mr. Senh’s family had sought refuge in Hoi Huong, the village where the gas attack took place.
Religious repression in Vietnam is pervasive, and particularly harsh as directed against the Christian tribal people. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom determined in September that religious freedom in Vietnam is “egregious, systematic and ongoing.”
Copies of the December 29 documents are on file at the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House.
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