Human rights group petitions for release of Hmong Christian prisoners in Vietnam
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.- Freedom House has petitioned the Government of Vietnam for the immediate release of 10 Hmong Christians as well as other religious prisoners, who were imprisoned for their beliefs, as a good will gesture during this Easter Season. In its appeal, submitted yesterday, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom argued that the release of religious prisoners is necessary under basic international human rights law and Vietnam's bill of rights.

Three of the prisoners, on whom the Center’s appeal focuses, are elders or leaders of their churches. One of the elders, Ma Van Bay, remains jailed without benefit of due process since November 2003. 

Others among the Hmong prisoners have been charged with vague or catchall offenses, such as "disturbing public order, "taking advantage of religion to take money from the people," and  "resisting a police officer doing his duty." They are serving prison terms, ranging from 18 months to 12 years. 

These arrests are part of a wave of anti-Christian persecution in the Hmong areas of Vietnam, said the Center.

Due to international pressure, Vietnamese authorities now rarely refer to Christianity when discussing charges of religious believers in public. Instead, they use the term "illegal religion."

The Hmong in these provinces converted to Christianity after 1954, when French rule ended and Communist forces under Ho Chi Minh took control of the North. The government only recognizes as Christians those who believed prior to the revolution.

As well, the Vietnamese military has used drug injections in Lai Chau Province as part of its campaign to pressure Hmong Christians to sign statements recanting their faith, reported the Center.

Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom urges the United States government to cite Vietnam on its list of "Countries of Particular Concern" for egregious, systematic, and ongoing religious persecution.

The full prisoner list can be viewed at www.freedomhouse.org/religion.

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