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Unofficial Vietnamese church members languish in detention

Four members of an unofficial church in southern Vietnam’s Dak Lak province who invited the country’s newly appointed president to attend their services remained in custody Thursday, in violation of a law that requires detainees be released within three days, said a religious watchdog group.

Protestant Christians Y Phuc Nie, Y Nuer Buon Dap, Y Thinh Nie, and Y Cung Nie were arrested on Oct. 31 and are being held at the Cu Mgar District Police Headquarters, Y Quynh Buon Dap, a member of Thailand’s Montagnards For Justice group said.

“Two of them were invited to a meeting on religious affairs [and detained], and the other two were taken from their homes to the Cu Mgar District Police,” Y Quynh Buon Dap told RFA Vietnamese. “Three days have already passed, but none have been allowed to return home.”

In a letter dated Oct. 30, Cu Sue Commune People’s Committee Chairman Dang Van Hoan requested that Y Cung Nie come to his office the following day to discuss an invitation he sent to President Vo Van Thuong in May to attend his church’s services.

On the same day, the chairman of the Ea Pok Town People’s Committee requested that Y Nuer Buon Dap meet with him on Oct. 31 to discuss “guidance on procedures to establish religious service locations.”

However, police arrested the two Protestants upon their arrival for the meetings, their family members told RFA.

“The police arrested him right after he arrived at the office of the Commune People’s Committee early on Oct. 31 and then escorted him to the Cu Mgar District Police headquarters,” said Y Cung Nie’s relative, who declined to be named for security reasons. “Since then, they have held him but haven’t said anything to our family.”

Y Phuc Nie and Y Thinh Nie were both arrested at their homes.

Y Cung Nie’s relative confirmed that “three other [Protestants] are also being held at Cu Mgar District Police headquarters.” When family members went there to ask for information about them, police did not respond.

RFA contacted the Cu Mgar District Police on Thursday, but the person who answered the phone said that they could only provide information in person.

A source with the Montagnards For Justice group told RFA on Thursday that the Cu Mgar District Police had released Y Phuc Nie, but arrested his wife, H Tuyen Eban instead. RFA was unable to independently verify the claim.

Limits on detention

According to Vietnamese law, a person accused of committing an administrative violation can only be held in custody for 12 hours – or 24 hours under extenuating circumstances. Those accused of a crime cannot be held for more than three days – a period that can be extended twice for three days each with special permission.

All cases requiring temporary detention must be approved by the Procuracy at the same level as the investigating police department and the status of the case must be communicated to the family of the accused.

Despite the requirements, the families of the four Protestants have yet to receive any notification on their situation from authorities.

According to a document obtained by RFA from the Montagnards For Justice, the four Protestants sent an invitation in May to new Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong, who was appointed two months earlier, and representatives of the People’s Committees of all communes in Dak Lak to attend their church service in June.

The purpose of the invitation, they said, was to prove to authorities that their unofficial church services do not include any anti-state ideology, and that they would not affect public order.

It said that if local authorities attended the service, church members would document the event to post on social media and include in any reports to international organizations.

Three-day propaganda lecture

The unofficial Protestant church in Cu Mgar district claims to have 165 members, 150 of whom are from Cu Sue commune’s Sut M’dung village and 15 from Ea Tar commune’s Drai Si village.

Montagnards For Justice’s Y Quynh Buon Dap told RFA that the church had sent invitations to attend services to local authorities four times since the beginning of the year, but has yet to receive a response.

He said that in addition to detaining the four Protestants, authorities required members of the church to attend a three-day propaganda lecture, beginning Oct. 30.

In two-three hour sessions, local authorities urged the community not to take part in the services of their church or any other unofficial church, including the Evangelical Church of Christ of the Central Highlands and Good News Mission Church.

Those that do would be “dealt with according to the law,” they said.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.