A family of 13 in Vietnam’s Nghe An province say they are being persecuted by local authorities for religious reasons. They told RFA at least one child was denied a birth certificate because the parents refused to renounce Protestantism.
On June 15, Xong Ba Thong, from Na Ngoi commune in Ky Son district, sent a report to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (Northern region). The report said his family faced persecution in Ka Bottom village even though it had been granted approval to join a legal religious organization.
Expelled for following Christianity
According to RFA research, the family of 26-year-old Xong Ba Thong has lived in this area for generations. The ethnic Hmong family had traditionally followed the local custom of ghost-worshiping.
Thong said that around 2017, his entire family including his parents, younger siblings and himself voluntarily converted to Protestantism after learning about the religion through radio broadcasts.
Around 2019, local authorities began demanding that the family renounce Protestantism and forced them to return to the local custom.
“They said that here in Ky Son district, Na Ngoi commune and the whole of Nghe An province, no one followed a religion, but they said it was against the law to follow another religion. They also said that [by following Protestantism] we have greatly affected national unity,” Thong said.
The family wanted to be officially converted to Protestantism and applied to join the Vietnam Evangelical Church (Northern) General Assembly. The application was approved in April this year.
Instead of acknowledging the church’s approval and allowing Mr. Thong’s family to convert, local authorities increased pressure on them to try to force them to give up their religious beliefs.
Local officials repeatedly visited their house to try to persuade family members to renounce Protestantism. They also repeatedly summoned Thong to the commune headquarters for “work”, including spending time with the cadres of Ky Son district on May 17. Thong said the “work” revolved around the request for his family to renounce Protestantism.
“The day I met the district delegation, I read the law on belief and religion to them all and showed them all, but they said the law has no effect here, has no effect in the district, this province,” Thong said.
Threats and sanctions for following a religion
As well as putting pressure on the family, commune authorities also applied punitive measures.
Sources told RFA local officials confiscated the family’s plow, which had been donated by the state for farming. They said local authorities took the plow because the family refused to renounce Protestantism and also confiscated some of the wood that the family had been planning to build a house with.
Although the family has more than one hectare of rice fields, they are afraid to cultivate it due to threats. They have now abandoned it fearing any crops they grew there would be destroyed. The local government has also cut off the electricity to their house for more than a week.
“It’s true that I can raise cattle here, but when it comes to trading, they don’t let merchants come and buy anything from the family,” Thong said. “Now our money has gone, we don’t have enough to eat and drink. In hard times we can use rice as a reserve but there is no electricity to grind it.”
The campaign against the family culminated on June 4, when the government held a vote to expel Xong Ba Thong’s family from the locality. According to Thong, no one dared to vote against the decision.
As a result of the vote the government no longer considers the family to be local citizens, does not allow them to use public services and even refuses to issue citizenship and birth certificates to some family members.
RFA made repeated calls to the party secretary and chairman of Na Ngoi commune to verify the information, but no one picked up the phone.
RFA then contacted Tho Ba Re, Vice Chairman of Ky Son district, who had previously directly campaigned for Mr. Thong’s family to renounce their religion. After RFA mentioned the family’s situation he refused to comment saying he was not authorized by the district president.
An RFA reporter also sent an email to the General Assembly of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North) to verify the information, but did not immediately receive a reply.
The government mobilizes people “not to follow other religions”
On May 1, Nghe An newspaper published an article about the An Dan model in Phu Kha 1 village, Na Ngoi commune, Ky Son district near the border with Laos. It was co-written by the Ky Son District Committee for Mass Mobilization and the Commanding Committee of District Military, Na Ngoi Border Guard Station, Na Ngoi Commune Party Committee.
Phu Kha 1 village is located not far from Ka Bottom village, where Thong’s family live.
According to the article the An Dan model steering committee aims to encourage families living in Phu Kha 1 village to abide by the law and the village’s covenant, which is not to listen to or follow “bad” propaganda. It also instructs them not to follow other religions but only the long-standing beliefs and customs of the Hmong people.
A Hmong Protestant pastor in Lao Cai province who is currently taking refuge in Thailand, told RFA the expulsion of ethnic Hmong Protestants from their locality for refusing to renounce their religion is quite common
“This kind of case happens a lot, and has happened for many years,” he said.
“There have been many such cases and when an appeal is made to higher authorities such as the province and the central government, they answer that it is because the commune or village authorities do not understand the law or the constitution about religion. They say superiors will investigate but many households have asked their superiors to solve it and, in the end, nothing came of it.”
The pastor also said that if households do not leave the locality after formal expulsion it will be difficult for them to live there because they will not receive any benefits.
He said there were many cases of children not being granted a birth certificate, leading to them being unable to go to the hospital when they are sick, or unable to go to school when they grow older.
This is one reason why a large number of Vietnamese Hmong people cross the border to Thailand to seek asylum.
The Thong family’s case is clearly a violation of human rights, according to Vu Quoc Dung, Executive Director of VETO!, which monitors religious freedom in Vietnam.
Based on the international conventions to which the Vietnamese government has joined, Dung said that the Vietnamese people’s right to freedom of religion is an inviolable right. For that reason he condemned the government’s behavior in this incident:
“If the government acts arbitrarily like this, in my opinion, Vietnam should withdraw from the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Prime Minister should not issue a document to request state agencies in Vietnam to learn about this convention as well, ” he said, adding that the Vietnamese government’s policy of targeting new converts is intended to prevent the expansion of religions.