Vietnam: How the Communist Grinches StoleChristmas

February 6, 2015 – by Michael Benge

Alphonse Karr’s 1839statement “Plus change, plus c’estla chose.” (The more things change, themore they remain the same) is still valid in former Indochina after decades ofbrutal dictatorships.

As an agent of Moscow,whose loyalty was not to the Vietnamese people but to the World CommunistMovement (the Comintern), Ho Chi Minh, announced theestablishment of the Indochinese Communist Party on February 18, 1930. The goalwas to dominate French colonial Indochina – Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – aswell as the rest of SE Asia. The Khmer Rouge was also a creation of Ho.Although he died in 1969, the Vietnamese communist party has yet to give up onHo’s dream, amoeba-like, Vietnam is economically and politically neo-colonizingits two neighboring vassal states – Laos and Cambodia – with regimes that arecreations of Hanoi. Hanoi has agreements with both regimes to have “advisers”in every department of government; including those dealing with religion.

The Vietnamese regime isextremely paranoid over organized religion, for it competes with and is indirect opposition to the political religion of communism. The regime’sgreatest fears are Christianity and Buddhism.

In 2001, Christian Montagnards in the Central Highlands of Vietnam held massdemonstrations seeking the right to worship freely. This triggered severe crackdownsby the repressive communist regime that resulted in large numbers of Montagnards killed, thousands of others arrested, torturedand imprisoned, many of whom remain so today. After the protests, thousands of Montagnards fled the brutality and sought asylum inneighboring Cambodia causing an international political embarrassment andchange in Vietnam’s communist party leadership.

In case one suffers fromthe illusion that there is no longer religious persecution, this might wake youup, for the brutal communist Grinches in both Vietnamand Laos have done it again: They’ve stolen Christmas from the Protestant Montagnards, Hmong and other Christian groups, especiallythose who worship in house churches or outdoors.

Compass Direct reported in 2013 that “communist authorities slammed thedoors on Christmas celebrations in two of the Vietnam’s largest cities” and inmore than 10 provinces, “in what probably was the highest profile move recentlyto step up persecution of Christians.” Authorities also banned Mgr. MichaelHoang , theCatholic Bishop of Kontum, from celebrating ChristmasMass with faithful Christian Montagnards. Althoughthe 2014 reports have yet to come in, it is indicated they did it again, givenreports from Gialai province. In all likelihood theywill again ban the celebration of Easter as well. This year the communistgovernment used the holiday season to pursue a violent crackdown on Montagnards and the Hmong ethnic minority.

In Vietnam, only churchesthat have a communist-ordained pastor and are registered with and controlled bythe government are allowed to conduct modest services to observe Christian holydays. One of Vietnam’s many religious mandates is that to become a pastor orpriest and register a church one must first pledge to put the “State” (i.e.,communism) before God. Some places go as far as to require the hanging of alarge picture of Ho Chi Minh instead of a cross in the appropriate location inchurches.

Most Montagnardand Hmong Christians refuse to worship under these conditions, so they holdservices in their homes. However, anyone who participates in unauthorizedreligious activities, including worship in house churches, outdoor prayerservices, protests or demonstrations against reprisals is guilty of“undermining Vietnam’s national unity.” Minorities with unauthorized cellphones also fall under this category. Violators are subject to ten years ormore imprisonment, tortured, and deprived of adequate nourishment and medicaltreatment that often results in their death.

Technologies provided byU.S. and U.K. companies allow the communist regime to closely monitor cellphones and conversations on land lines of suspected dissidents and advocates ofdemocracy, human rights and religious freedom; especially those used by Montagnards and Hmong Christians. The communists alsoexercise strict control over the media, Internet, blogs and social-networks,and “violators” are severely punished. In spite of the regime’s terroristtactics, some still brave reprisals and a smattering of information on abusesekes out.

Somewhat recently, theauthor received a dated list of 344 Montagnardpolitical prisoners from the Jarai tribal group in Gialai province who are languishing in prisons and jailsunder horrendous conditions, primarily for their Christian beliefs and forworshiping in their homes instead of communist-controlled Potemkin churches.The sole legal communist-sanctioned Protestant church in Gialaiprovince for Montagnards to worship in isthe Hoi Thanh Tin Vietnam, presided over by Siu Y. Kim a government-ordained “Pastor” who hasoften been seen accompanying police raids on Montagnardhouse churches.

According to WikiLeaks (id#78561), based on discussions with Kim, the U.S. Embassy and JohnHanford, the Ambassador-at-Large ofthe United States for International Religious Freedom, submittedfalse reports of alleged vast improvements in religious freedom for the Montagnards. Kim, a known disinformation agent, duped these“useful idiots,“ and their reports resulted in the State Department delistingVietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for egregious violations ofreligious freedom. CPC listing was a diplomatic embarrassment to the Vietnamesegovernment.

Only a handful of Jarai have been released from prison since the list wascompiled. The list doesn’t contain names of other imprisoned Christian ethnicminorities from other provinces, such as the Rhade inDarlac, Banhar in Kontum, the Mnong in  , the Stieng in Phuoc provinces, the Hmong and other tribal groups inNorthern and Southern Mountainous provinces. Nor does the list contain names ofthe Khmer and Cham in the Southern part ofVietnam or others of different religious beliefs, such as Buddhists, Muslimsand Catholics who are also imprisoned for their beliefs. A comprehensive listof all those imprisoned for practicing their religious persuasions would make abook.

Vietnam, a nation of 86million, has 3.6 million Communist Party members, and maintains a police forceestimated at 1.2 million, including the Special Religious Police Force (SRPF – An ),one of the largest per-capita special religious police forces in the world.

Additionally, there aregovernment-paid forces belonging to the Vietnamese Fatherland Front (VFF:  Nam), a state-funded parastatal organizationcontrolled by the VietnameseCommunist Party.

 These VFF thugs, most often led byplainclothes police, are used as enforcers to carry out “spontaneous” actionsagainst targeted groups while giving the communist regime plausible deniabilityfor the property damage, beatings and deaths they inflict.

Althoughhuman rights abuses and religious repression against Christian minorities andthose of other religious persuasions have not abated, the communist regime hasgotten a little smarter, for it stopped the kangaroo court public show trials. Nowbelievers are just quietly arrested and jailed; or “disappeared.” Often theirfamilies have no idea if they are alive or dead.

The communistregime’s alleged easing of restrictions on religious freedom is only lipservice. Decree 92, the much-heralded amended regulation on church registrationthat became effective January 1, 2013, was supposed to “clear up and smooth theprocess.” Instead, house-church leaders say, it has only further slowed churchregistration; applications are either denied or ignored. A Committee ofReligious Affairs official pointed out to church leaders that many provincesstill do not have a church registration policy. Thus, local authorities arestill allowed to make independent decisions regarding qualifications, whatconstitutes violations of policy and what punitive actions can be taken.Progress on religious freedom in Vietnam, at least in rural areas, has clearlyflat-lined.

For example,according to reports from Gialai province, SRPFOfficer Hai arrested and brutally beat Christian Montagnardsfor worshiping in house churches rather than in Siu Kim’s officially sanctionedchurch in Pleiku city several miles from theirvillages; an expensive and lengthy trip they cannot afford.

. In October2014, in Chu Distric,Siu , and Rahlan from village; Siu Teland Siu Hoang from Tai village, Rahlan Dal, Sur Bvillage were arrested and beaten were Rahlan (female), Siu , Rahlan , and Hit from Tot village, and H’Nhep and her husband Rahlan of Tao village were all arrested and severely beatenby SRPF Officer Hai. The houses in all villages in Gialiaprovince suspected to be places of worship are under constant surveillance24/7. Hai also said that celebrating Christmas was banned.

The Vietnamesecommunists restrict travel to sensitive areas such as the Central Highlands andthe tribal areas in the northwest; when allowed access, outsiders are closelywatched by the police, and foreigners must always be accompanied by governmentchaperones (i.e., minders). The regime controls all media and communistofficials and their puppet clerics are the only ones allowed to speak toforeign officials and news reporters.

Even so, anundated video appeared on YouTube in mid-2014 showing Vietnamese police beatingHmong Christians and destroying their church in Northern Vietnam. A trickle ofinformation has also emerged through VietCatholic andVatican news services, and from local NGOs such as Morning Star News (MSN), a501(c3) reporting solely on persecuted Christians).

. In southern Vietnam’s Phuoc province where StiengMontagnard Christians make up a large part of thepopulation, authorities are trying to force the consolidation of congregationsof long-established village churches into the legally recognizedstate-controlled Evangelical Church of Vietnam-South. Authorities began byoutlawing crosses in and on village church.

According toMSN, “inciting social hostility has become a key way government officials tryto contain, or at least slow, the growth of Christianity among ethnicminorities in rural Vietnam.” Usually, VFF “thugs are used by the government as‘spontaneous’ enforcers and reported as fellow villagers.” The followingincidents took place in the northernmost region of Vietnam, noted for theprevailing violence against ethnic Hmong Christians who are a particular targetof communist officials.

. On Feb. 26, in neighboring Bien Province, VNFF thugs beat a Christian family –including Hang their 9-year-old girl – and drove them from the village. Public Securityofficers Hang Da and Cu recruited the mob from outside the village andtook them to the home of Hang and ordered and his family of nine toimmediately recant their Christian faith and revert back to the practice ofancestor worship. refused, and the officersordered the VNFF thugs to attack the family. They did so vehemently, swingingshort lengths of electrical cable at both adults and children, who sustainedlarge welts and bruises. The thugs were then ordered by officers and to ransack thehouse. They took valuable legal papers (e.g., birth certificates and healthinsurance policies), foodstuffs and personal effects; then demolished theirhouse. Finally, after three hours of abuse, the officers announced theconfiscation of the family’s rice fields and that the family was permanentlyexpelled from Bien Dong District. They thenincited the mob to chase them away. The family is now living in the forestwithout a home and according to ”day after daywe do not know how we will live or where we will end up…”

. In adjacentSon La Province, in Yen District, Christian A Say reported four Hmong Christian families in Marchwere similarly threatened. The four families’ formal affiliation with thelegally-recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam-North (ECVN-N), did not sparethem; commune officials told them that Christianity did not exist in theirvillage of Cu. They were told by Mr. Tuyen, chairman of the People’s Committee of Tan Commune, that “You cannot believe in Christ – ifyou do, you and the other families who do must leave this village!” VMFF thugsincited by authorities threatened to destroy the Christians’ homes and killthem unless they recanted. On March 25, as a further warning, thugs barged intoSay’s home and began beating him and his wife with chairs, kicking and punchingthem, and then drug his wife, , out to their yard by herhair.

Hanoi hasagreements with its neighbors to provide “advisors” to all government agencies,including those dealing with religion. Hanoi fears that Hmong Christians inLaos and Vietnam might unite and coordinate activities with Montagnardsin an attempt to force change in religious policies toward them.

. Accordingto The Wall Street Journal (Silent Night in Laos, 01/08/2015), “Intensifiedreligious freedom violations directed against ethnic Laotian and Hmong Christianbelievers are increasingly violent and egregious, with independent religiousceremonies and Christmas celebrations Believers have been arrested,tortured, killed, or have simply disappeared.” It is well known that the LaoPeople’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) has absolute control over the press andcivil society; nevertheless, some human rights advocates believe that theChristmas crackdown on Hmong Christians was coordinated with Hanoi.

. The Voice of the Martyrs reports that on Sunday, Jan. 18, Mennonite PastorNguyen Hong Quang and his associate pastor werebrutally beaten by five men, assumingly VNFF thugs, in broad daylight nearthe Bible College in former Saigon that Quangfounded and still leads. The five men attacked the pastors withoutprovocation, hitting them in the head with bricks and rocks until theycollapsed to the ground. The attackers continued their assault even after thepastors were on the ground, kicking them repeatedly. Both pastors were taken toan emergency room for treatment. Pastor Quangsuffered a broken nose, broken ribs and injuries to his teeth and jaw. And ofcourse, no arrests have been made in the assault.

Since thepre-Christmas crackdown, scores of Christian Montagnardhave fled the terror in the Central Highlands to hide in the jungles ofCambodia’s northeastern Rattanikiri province in hopesof gaining asylum and religious freedom. However, they are between a rock and ahard place for there is a considerable presence of Vietnamese “advisors” in Rattanikiri who pay Cambodian border police “bounties”reportedly in excess of a month’s pay for every Montagnardcaptured and turned over to them for deportation and imprisonment in Vietnam.How many groups arrived, and how many have been caught and deported is unknownfor the numbers arriving are confusing and those deported go unreported.

According toThe Phnom Penh Post, Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for local human rightsgroup Adhoc, and an associate monitor, criticized thegovernment for arresting a family of five Montagnards– a mother and father, their two young sons, and 9-month-old daughter – onSunday January 5th. The next day in an interview with Voice of America,Interior Ministry spokesman four-star General Khieu Sopheak denied reports of the arrest and stated, there areno Montagnards in the province only “illegalVietnamese immigrants.” Sopheak then threaten Thy bystating that if he didn’t withdraw his assertions, he would be sued. Thystressed that reports of the arrests on Sunday were true and confirmed byaccounts from villagers and activists, and said he would not back down. Thethreats against Thy once again extended to social media recently as a Facebookaccount called “ Phatsrok,”which Thy lleges is controlled by a senior provincialofficial, invited ISIS militants to “cut off” his tongue.

The first toarrive was a group of 13 Montagnard Christians whofled after the pre-Christmas crackdown on religion in the Central Highlands ofVietnam and went into hiding from the border police in the jungles of Rattanikiri. Malnourished and ravaged by malaria and denguefever, after a month an intermediary was finally able to put them in touch witha UNHCR team who took them to Phnom Penh and helped them gain asylum status.Later, three others joined them. Nonetheless, they are still in danger for theCambodian communist regime is closely allied with and under the influence ofits Hanoi patron that insists all Montagnards bereturned to Vietnam.

During a tripto Hanoi and Phnom Penh in February 2007, Ellen Sauerbrey,assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, rang thedeath knell for any favorable U.S. policy toward our former allies. At a pressbriefing in Hanoi she stated that she believed communist officials, who assuredher that the Montagnards enjoyed religious freedom,were not being persecuted and could travel freely to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoior the Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City to voice any grievances. Yes, and pigs canfly too. Sauerbrey then held another press conferencein Phnom Penh and told Cambodian communist officials that Montagnardsshould stay in Vietnam and those seeking asylum in Cambodia should be returnedto Vietnam. In 1992, the Cambodian government ratified the United Nationsmultilateral treaty relating to the Status of Refugees agreeing to allowall asylum seekers access to asylum procedures. Nevertheless, acting on Sauerbrey’s advice and Hanoi’s pressure, the Cambodianregime forced UNHCR to close its refugee camps and the police have relentlesslypursued Montagnard asylum seekers and deported them.In effect, Sauerbrey set the State Department’sunofficial policy toward our former allies that remains in place today.

Even if the Montagnard refugees gain UNHCR asylum status, there is noguarantee they will be allowed to relocate to another country any time soon.More than 150 Montagnards who fled religiouspersecution in Vietnam years ago are still languishing in Thailand. While somehave made it into the UNHCR system there, others remain in hiding: all arecaught up in U.S. and Southeast Asian politics. It is unlikely that the US willgo to bat for its former allies, as the Obama administration has shown littleempathy toward endangered Christians.

Since thefall of Saigon in 1975 and the subsequent installation of a totalitariancommunist government, Vietnam has become one of the world’s most egregiousviolators of basic human rights – including the freedom to practice one’sreligion. Human rights groups continually call for investigations intoVietnam’s human right abuses, and the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi frequently vows toinvestigate these matters, but nothing seems to result.

Now,President Obama is about to give away the farm by granting Vietnam fullmembership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Unbridled trade relationshas the disadvantage of conceding the only leverage the U.S. has to pressureVietnam to cease human rights abuses, make measurable improvements in religiousand Internet freedoms, and release political prisoners.

Obama isseemingly following the advice of the Bobbsey twins,Senator McCain and Secretary of State Kerry, who have been the strongestadvocates for communist Vietnam. Their rationale is that it’s necessary tocoddle Vietnam to stem China’s influence in Southeast Asia. Whoever harbors thispipe dream must have flunked remedial math, given the disparity in theirpopulations. Recently, in a speech to big labor and liberal Democrats whooppose a major new free-trade deal with Asia, President Obama said the “horseis out of the barn” on America losing jobs overseas and that granting Vietnamfull membership in the TPP would create a more fair trading system.

And the bandplays on.

Michael Bengespent 11 years in Vietnam as a Foreign Service officer and is a student ofSoutheast Asian politics. He is very active in advocating for human rights,religious freedom, and democracy for the peoples of the region and has writtenextensively on these subjects.