Montagnards: Telling Their Situation to the European Parliament
The President of the Montagnard Foundation has spoken out about Vietnam’s lack of religious freedoms at a conference on secularism and religions.
Brussels, 28 August, 2008: Speaking before the ‘Secularism and Religions’ conference organized by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group in the European Parliament, Mr. Kok Ksor laid before delegates the religious persecution faced by Christians in Vietnam. The President of the Montagnard Foundation gave the conference a background to the history of Christianity in Vietnam and detailed the ways in which successive governments in Vietnam had tried to force Christians to practice their religion exclusively through state sponsored churches.
Mr. Kok Ksor’s contribution joined speeches from a variety of experts who covered topics as diverse as ‘Religion, Reproduction, and Public Policy’ and ‘The Role of Religiosity in the Post-Democratic Era’. In addition to UNPO’s presence at the conference, a number of press representatives and senior members of the ALDE group were also in attendance.
Before the conference closed for lunch, attendees also heard from Mr. Vo Van Ai, a spokesman for the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and writer on the history of Vietnamese Buddhism. In a speech that detailed the history of Buddhism in Vietnam, Mr. Vo Van Ai recounted the ways in which the Vietnamese government published inaccurate information and limited press freedoms within the country. He went on to explain the context within Vietnam, and the regime’s fear that Buddhism’s essentially democratic tenets represent a threat to its existence.
Thanking him for his contribution, Mr. Marco Cappato MEP went on to express his hope that conference attendees would “stand together to showcase the situation you described.” Mr. Vo Van Ai’s remarks were an important reiteration of the constraints that affect Montagnards, Buddhists, and other minorities in Vietnam when they attempt to express their freedoms in what remains a repressive society.
Statement on Secularism and Religion
Brussels, August 28, 2008.
Dear Friends, Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank you very much for allowing me to share with you the religious persecution that my indigenous Degar people have been enduring since the North Vietnam invaded the Central Highland in 1975.
Before our conversion to Christianity, our people had no real organized religion. But instead we believed that there were good and bad sprits. We neither prayed to nor worshipped these spirits but we understood that these spirits lived among us.
Our first organized religion was the Catholic religion. It was introduced to the Degar people in 1615 by two priests, Father Buzumi (Italian) and Father Calvalho (Portuguese). It was not until the 1940s that the Protestant missionaries can to the Central Highlands. As a result, many Degar people converted to Christianity, including myself.
During the second Indochina War, the population of Degar Protestants and Catholics was approximately 20,000. Today, there are approximately 460,000 Protestants and 170,000 Catholics. This is truly a miracle since this happened oer a short period of time. Due to the horrible religious persecution from the Vietnamese government, the population of Christians among our people has increased dramatically. And, I believe it is because of their faith in Christ, [that] He has given them the hope and strength needed to endure.
The Vietnamese government began the religious persecution of the Degar Christians during the second Vietnam War. They saw organized religion as a threat to the Communist government and therefore needed to remove it. The preferred method of persecution at the time was fear, torture, and murder which they also targeted [at] children. Many Degar Protestant Christians were falsely accused and labeled as CIA agents and killed without any due process of trial. Any outcry from any family was perceived as a separatist of terrorist activity resulting in severe consequences. However, overall this did not achieve what the Vietnamese government had hoped for. Instead, the number of Christians among the Degar people grew. The government therefore realized that they had to implement a new plan.
Since the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, the methods of religious persecution have evolved to include a more indirect approach by using religion to fight against religion in addition to torture and murder. They did this by forming the Evangelc Church of Vietnam, burning Bibles, imprisonment, forced signing of documents, and also by increasing undercover security police forces within villages to discourage any prayer meetings and organized church services. According to the website FrontPageMagazine.com, Michael Benge reported on Tuesday, August 05, 2008, that the “Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung had instituted ‘the Vietnamese Communists Party’s 2007-2008 Religion Campaign Plan’ to train 21,811 Communist religious workers in the political management of religion, with a special focus on ethnic minorities.” Vietnam News Agency, on June 13, 2007, reported that government trained religious ‘workers’ are to ensure that churches and church members comply with the Central Bureau of the Religious Affairs (CBRA) registration requirements and the Communist control of religion. In addition, they placed stipulations on churches such as the praising Ho Chi Minh with patriotic song before being conducting a church service. Also, sermons had to be approved by the government before it was formally given to the congregation. The Vietnamese government therefore blatantly violated all religious rights which were protected by their own Constitution, specifically, Article 70 which states that:
1. The citizens shall enjoy freedom of belief and of religion; he can follow any religion or follow none.
2. All religions are equal before the law.
3. The places of worship of all faiths and religions are protected by the law
4. No one can violate freedom of belief and religion nor can anyone misuse beliefs and religions to contravene the law and state policies.
Another tactic they would use was labeling. For instance, they would refer to us as terrorists and a cult-like religion when speaking to the international community. Unfortunately, these accusations worked and we los support from religious denominations and also from different major governments around the world.
Because of these violations Vietnam was named a ‘country of particular concern’ by the United States’ Commission on International Religious Freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. They have been on this list since 2001 and it was not until November 2006 that they were taken off the list. Furthermore, “after a Commission delegation visit to Vietnam during the months of October and November of 2007 the commission found gross violations of religious rights and recommend that Vietnam again be designated a country of particular concern in 2008.”
I would like to conclude by asking the Vietnamese government to honor their constitution and give us our religious rights as citizens of Vietnam. To be more specific, we want the Vietnamese government to stay out of out religious affairs. We want them to stop building state run churches in the Central Highlands. We want them to stop placing stipulations on our church. And lastly, we them to stop the widespread religious persecution of the Degar Christians. We are not asking for money and we are not trying to impose or views on the government. So we ask for the compassion and support of the international community. I thank you all for your time. On behalf of the Degar people, I deeply appreciate your thoughts and prayers. Thank you and God bless.