11 Vietnamese Christians missing from detention amid religious freedom concerns

Phat Diem Cathedral, Vietnam The front of the Phat Diem Cathedral, Vietnam. | Credit: Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Eleven Vietnamese Christians, including five Catholics, are reportedly missing from detention, according to a recent report from International Christian Concern (ICC), a U.S.-based advocacy group.

The ICC report, released on July 5, claims the missing individuals were sentenced between 2011 and 2016 to a combined total of 90 years and eight months in prison for their religious activities. Their current whereabouts are unknown.

According to the report, the five missing Catholics — identified by the names of Runh, A Kuin, A Tik, Run, and Dinh Kuh — were allegedly accused of “undermining national unity policy” for their participation in the Ha Mon Catholic Church, which lacks government approval.

The report also mentions six Protestant detainees among the missing, including four who were allegedly accused of involvement with Degar Protestantism, a movement not recognized by Vietnam’s government.

Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wisconsin, commented on religious persecution in Vietnam in 2022, stating: “The United States has a role as a leader to promote and defend religious liberty on the world stage, and that starts with denouncing the Vietnamese government for its track record of religious persecution.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has consistently raised concerns about religious freedom in Vietnam. In its 2024 report, USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be designated a “country of particular concern” for its violations of religious freedom.

A 2019 USCIRF report noted that Vietnam’s Law on Belief and Religion, which went into effect in 2018, has been problematic in its implementation. The law requires religious groups to register with the government and imposes procedures for religious activities that some groups have found burdensome.

The Vietnam Constitution nominally protects freedom of belief and religion, but in practice, the government maintains control over religious activities.

Warming Vatican-Vietnam relations

In December 2023, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Marek Zalewski as Vietnam’s first resident papal representative since 1975. This appointment followed a 2018 agreement between the Holy See and Vietnam on establishing a resident papal representative.

In April 2024, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister, met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in Hanoi. Both parties reportedly agreed on the need to advance high-level contacts, including possibly a papal visit to Vietnam.

Vietnam is home to an estimated 7 million Catholics, one of the largest Catholic populations among countries never visited by a pope — though some hope Pope Francis might change that. 

The Catholic Church in Vietnam has reported a rise in vocations, with government data indicating 8,000 priests, 41 bishops, and more than 2,800 seminarians as of 2020. This growth has led to the construction of new seminaries, including one in Hanoi completed in 2020 with capacity for 300 students.

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